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The University of Hard Knocks
by Ralph Parlette
March, 1996 [Etext #455]
**The Project Gutenberg Etext of The University of Hard Knocks**
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The University of Hard Knocks
by Ralph Parlette
The School That Completes Our Education
"He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his
God, and he shall be my son"--Revelation 21:7.
"Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And thus our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."
Why It Is Printed
MORE than a million people have sat in audiences in all parts of
the United States and have listened to "The University of Hard
Knocks." It has been delivered to date more than twenty-five
hundred times upon lyceum courses, at chautauquas, teachers'
institutes, club gatherings, conventions and before various other
kinds of audiences. Ralph Parlette is kept busy year after year
lecturing, because his lectures deal with universal human
"Can I get the lecture in book form?" That continuous question from
audiences brought out this book in response. Here is the overflow
of many deliveries.
"What is written here is not the way I would write it, were I
writing a book," says Ralph Parlette. "It is the way I say it. The
lecture took this unconscious colloquial form before audiences. An
audience makes a lecture, if the lecture survives. I wish I could
shake the hand of every person who has sat in my audiences. And I
wish I could tell the lecture committees of America how I
appreciate the vast amount of altruistic work they have done in
bringing the audiences of America together. For lecture audiences
are not drawn together, they are pushed together."
The warm reception given "The University of Hard Knocks" by the
public, has encouraged the publishers to put more of Mr. Parlette's
lectures into book form, "Big Business" and "Pockets and Paradises"
are now in preparation as this, the third edition of "The
University of Hard Knocks" comes from the press.
SOME PRELIMINARY REMARKS--The lecturer the delivery wagon--The
sorghum barrel--Audience must have place to put lecture--Why so
The University of Hard Knocks
I. THE BOOKS ARE BUMPS--Every bump a lesson--Why the two kinds of
bumps--Description of University--"Sweet are the uses of
Adversity"--Why children are not interested
II. THE COLLEGE OF NEEDLESS KNOCKS, the bumps that we bump
into--Getting the coffee-pot--Teaching a wilful child--Bumps make
us "stop, look, listen"--Blind man learns with one bump--Going up
requires effort--Prodigals must be bumped--The fly and the sticky
fly-paper--"Removed" and "knocked out"
III. THE COLLEGE OF NEEDFUL KNOCKS, the bumps that bump into
us--Our sorrows and disappointments--How the piano was made--How
the "red mud" becomes razor-blades--The world our mirror--The
cripple taught by the bumps--Every bump brings a blessing--You are
never down and out
IV. "SHAKE THE BARREL"--How we decide our destinies--Why the big
ones shake up and the little ones shake down--The barrel of life
sorting people--How we hold our places, go down, go up--Good luck
and bad luck--The girl who went up--The man who went down--The
fatal rattle--We must get ready to get--Testimonials and press
notices--You cannot uplift people with derrick--No laws can
equalize--Help people to help themselves--We cannot get things till
we get ready for them
V. GOING UP--How we become great--We must get inside greatness--
There is no top--We make ourselves great by service--the
first step at hand--All can be greatest--Where to find great
people--A glimpse of Gunsaulus
VI. THE PROBLEM OF "PREPAREDNESS"--Preparing children for
life--Most "advantages" are disadvantages--Buying education for
children--The story of "Gussie" and "Bill Whackem"--Schools and
books only give better tools for service--"Hard knocks" graduates--
Menace of America not swollen fortunes but shrunken souls--
Children must have struggle to get strength--Not packhorse work--
Helping the turkeys killed them--the happiness of work we love--
Amusement drunkards--Lure of the city--Strong men from the
Must save the home towns--A school of struggle--New School
VII. THE SALVATION OF A "SUCKER"--You can't get something for
nothing--The fiddle and the tuning--How we know things--Trimmed at
the shell game--My "fool drawer"--Getting "selected to receive
1,000 per cent"--You must earn what you own--Commencement
orations--My maiden sermon--The books that live have been
lived--Singer must live songs--Successful songs written from
experience--Theory and practice--Tuning the strings of life
VIII. LOOKING BACKWARD--Memories of the price we pay--My first
school teaching--Loaning the deacon my money--Calling the roll of
my schoolmates--At the grave of the boy I had envied--Why Ben Hur
won the chariot race--Pulling on the oar
IX. GO ON SOUTH!--The book in the running brook--The Mississippi
keeps on going south and growing greater--We generally start well,
but stop--Few go on south--The plague of incompetents--Today our
best day, tomorrow to be better--Birthdays are promotions--I am
just beginning--Bernhardt, Davis, Edison--Moses begins at
eighty--Too busy to bury--Sympathy for the "sob squad"--Child sees
worst days, not best--Waiting for the second table--Better days on
south--Overcoming obstacles develops power--Go on south from
principle, not praise--Doing duty for the joy of it--Becoming the
"Father of Waters"--Go on south forever!
X. GOING UP LIFE'S MOUNTAIN--The defeats that are victories--
Climbing Mount Lowe--Getting above the clouds into the sunshine--
Each day we rise to larger vision--Getting above the night into
the eternal day--Going south is going upward
Some Preliminary Remarks
LADIES and Gentlemen:
I do not want to be seen in this lecture. I want to be heard. I am
only the delivery wagon. When the delivery wagon comes to your
you are not much interested in how it looks; you are interested in
the goods it brings you. You know some very good goods are
sometimes delivered to you in some very poor delivery wagons.
So in this lecture, please do not pay any attention to the delivery
wagon--how much it squeaks and wheezes and rattles and wabbles. Do
not pay much attention to the wrappings and strings. Get inside to
Really, I believe the goods are good. I believe I am to recite to
you some of the multiplication table of life--not mine, not yours
alone, but everybody's.
Can Only Pull the Plug!
Every audience has a different temperature, and that makes a
lecture go differently before every audience. The kind of an
audience is just as important as the kind of a lecture. A cold
audience will make a good lecture poor, while a warm audience will
make a poor lecture good.
Let me illustrate:
When I was a boy we had a barrel of sorghum in the woodshed. When
mother wanted to make ginger-bread or cookies, she would send me to
the woodshed to get a bucket of sorghum from that barrel.
Some warm September day I would pull the plug from the barrel and
the sorghum would fairly squirt into my bucket. Later in the fall
when it was colder, I would pull the plug but the sorghum would not
squirt. It would come out slowly and reluctantly, so that I would
have to wait a long while to get a little sorghum. And on some real
cold winter day I would pull the plug, but the sorghum would not
run at all. It would just look out at me.
I discovered it was the temperature.
I have brought a barrel of sorghum to this audience. The name of
the sorghum is "The University of Hard Knocks." I can only pull the
plug. I cannot make it run. That will depend upon the temperature
of this audience. You can have all you want of it, but to get it to
running freely, you will have to warm up.
Did You Bring a Bucket?
No matter how the sorghum runs, you have to have a bucket to get
it. How much any one gets out of a lecture depends also upon the
size of the bucket he brings to get it in. A big bucket can get
filled at a very small stream. A little bucket gets little at the
greatest stream. With no bucket you can get nothing at Niagara.
That often explains why one person says a lecture is great, while
the next person says he got nothing out of it.
What It's All About
Here is a great mass of words and sentences and pictures to express
two or three simple little ideas of life, that our education is our
growing up from the Finite to the Infinite, and that it is done by
our own personal overcoming, and that we never finish it.
Have you noticed that no sentence, nor a million sentences, can
bound life? Have you noticed that every statement does not quite
cover it? No statement, no library, can tell all about life. No
success rule can alone solve the problem. You must average it all
and struggle up to a higher vision.
We are told that the stomach needs bulk as well as nutriment. It
would not prosper with the necessary elements in their condensed
form. So abstract truths in their lowest terms do not always
promote mental digestion like more bulk in the way of pictures and
discussions of these truths. Here is bulk as well as nutriment.
If you get the feeling that the first personal pronoun is being
overworked, I remind you that this is more a confession than a
lecture. You cannot confess without referring to the confesser.
To Everybody in My Audience
I like you because I am like you.
I believe in you because I believe in myself. We are all one
family. I believe in your Inside, not in your Outside, whoever you
are, whatever you are, wherever you are.
I believe in the Angel of Good inside every block of human marble.
I believe it must be carved out in The University of Hard Knocks.
I believe all this pride, vanity, selfishness, self-righteousness,
hypocrisy and human frailty are the Outside that must be chipped
I believe the Hard Knocks cannot injure the Angel, but can only
I hope you are getting your Hard Knocks.
I care little about your glorious or inglorious past. I care little
about your present. I care much about your future for that is to
see more of the Angel in you.
The University of Hard Knocks
The Books Are Bumps
THE greatest school is the University of Hard Knocks. Its books are
Every bump is a lesson. If we learn the lesson with one bump, we do
not get that bump again. We do not need it. We have traveled past
it. They do not waste the bumps. We get promoted to the next bump.
But if we are "naturally bright," or there is something else the
matter with us, so that we do not learn the lesson of the bump we
have just gotten, then that bump must come back and bump us again.
Some of us learn to go forward with a few bumps, but most of us are
"naturally bright" and have to be pulverized.
The tuition in the University of Hard Knocks is not free.
Experience is the dearest teacher in the world. Most of us spend
our lives in the A-B-C's of getting started.
We matriculate in the cradle.
We never graduate. When we stop learning we are due for another
There are two kinds of people--wise people and fools. The fools are
the people who think they have graduated.
The playground is all of God's universe.
The university colors are black and blue.
The yell is "ouch" repeated ad lib.
The Need of the Bumps
When I was thirteen I knew a great deal more than I do now. There
was a sentence in my grammar that disgusted me. It was by some
foreigner I had never met. His name was Shakespeare. It was this:
"Sweet are the uses of adversity;
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a priceless jewel in its head;
And thus our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything."
"Tongues in trees," I thought. "Trees can't talk! That man is
crazy. Books in running brooks! Why nobody never puts no books in
no running brooks. They'd get wet. And that sermons in stones! They
get preachers to preach sermons, and they build houses out of
I was sorry for Shakespeare--when I was thirteen.
But I am happy today that I have traveled a little farther. I am
happy that I have begun to learn the lessons from the bumps. I am
happy that I am learning the sweet tho painful lessons of the
University of Adversity. I am happy that I am beginning to listen.
For as I learn to listen, I hear every tree speaking, every stone
preaching and every running brook the unfolding of a book.
Children, I fear you will not be greatly interested in what is to follow.
Perhaps you are "naturally bright" and feel sorry for Shakespeare.
I was not interested when father and mother told me these things.
I knew they meant all right, but the world had moved since they were
young, and now two and two made seven, because we lived so much faster.
It is so hard to tell young people anything. They know better. So
they have to get bumped just where we got bumped, to learn that two
and two always makes four, and "whatsoever a man soweth, that shall
he also reap."
But if you will remember some of these things, they will feel like
poultices by and by when the bumps come.
The Two Colleges
As we get bumped and battered on life's pathway, we discover we get
two kinds of bumps--bumps that we need and bumps that we do not
Bumps that we bump into and bumps that bump into us.
We discover, in other words, that The University of Hard Knocks has
two colleges--The College of Needless Knocks and The College of
We attend both colleges.
The College of Needless Knocks
The Bumps That We Bump Into
NEARLY all the bumps we get are Needless Knocks.
There comes a vivid memory of one of my early Needless Knocks as I
say that. It was back at the time when I was trying to run our home
to suit myself. I sat in the highest chair in the family circle. I
was three years old and ready to graduate.
That day they had the little joy and sunshine of the family in his
high-chair throne right up beside the dinner table. The coffee-pot
was within grabbing distance.
I became enamored with that coffee-pot. I decided I needed that
coffee-pot in my business. I reached over to get the coffee-pot.
Then I discovered a woman beside me, my mother. She was the most
meddlesome woman I had ever known. I had not tried to do one thing
in three years that that woman had not meddled into.
And that day when I wanted the coffee-pot--I did want it. Nobody
how I desired that coffee-pot. "One thing thou lackest," a
I was reaching over to get it, that woman said, "Don't touch that!"
The longer I thought about it the more angry I became. What right
has that woman to meddle into my affairs all the time? I have stood
this petticoat tyranny three years, and it is time to stop it!
I stopped it. I got the coffee-pot. I know I got the coffee-pot. I
got it unanimously. I know when I got it and I also know where I
got it. I got about a gallon of the reddest, hottest coffee a bad
boy ever spilled over himself.
O-o-o-o-o-o! I can feel it yet!
There were weeks after that when I was upholstered. They put
applebutter on me--and coal oil and white-of-an-egg and starch and
anything else the neighbors could think of. They would bring it
over and rub it on the little joy and sunshine of the family, who
had gotten temporarily eclipsed.
Teaching a Wilful Child
You see, my mother's way was to tell me and then let me do as I
pleased. She told me not to get the coffee-pot and then let me get
it, knowing that it would burn me. She would say, "Don't." Then she
would go on with her knitting and let me do as I pleased.
Why don't mothers knit today?
Mother would say, "Don't fall in the well." I could go and jump in
the well after that and she would not look at me. I do not argue
that this is the way to raise children, but I insist that this was
the most kind and effective way to rear one stubborn boy I know of.
The neighbors and the ladies' aid society often said my mother was
cruel with that angel child. But the neighbors did not know what
kind of an insect mother was trying to raise. Mother did know. She
knew how stubborn and self-willed I was. It came from father's
"side of the house."
Mother knew that to argue with me was to flatter me. Tell me, serve
notice upon me, and then let me go ahead and get my coffee-pot.
That was the quickest and kindest way to teach me.
I learned very quickly that if I did not hear mother, and heed, a
coffee-pot would spill upon me. I cannot remember when I disobeyed
my mother that a coffee-pot of some kind did not spill upon me, and I
got my blisters. Mother did not inflict them. Mother was not much of an
inflicter. Father attended to that in the laboratory behind the
"Stop, Look, Listen"
And thru the bumps we learn that The College of Needless Knocks
runs on the same plan. The Voice of Wisdom says to each of us,
"Child of humanity, do right, walk in the right path. You will be
wiser and happier." The tongues in the trees, the books in the
running brooks and the sermons in the stones all repeat it.
But we are not compelled to walk in the right path. We are free
We get off the right path. We go down forbidden paths. They seem
easier and more attractive. It is so easy to go downward. We slide
downward, but we have to make effort to go upward.
Anything that goes downward will run itself. Anything that goes
upward has to be pushed.
And going down the wrong path, we get bumped harder and harder
until we listen.
We are lucky if we learn the lesson with one bump. We are unlucky
when we get bumped twice in the same place, for it means we are
making no progress.
When we are bumped, we should "stop, look, listen." "Safety first!"
One time I paid a seeress two dollars to look into my honest palm.
She said, "It hain't your fault. You wasn't born right. You was
born under an unlucky star." You don't know how that comforted me.
It wasn't my fault--all my bumps and coffee-pots! I was just
unlucky and it had to be.
How I had to be bumped to learn better! Now when I get bumped I try
to learn the lesson of the bump and find the right path, so that
when I see that bump coming again I can say, "Excuse me; it hath a
familiar look," and dodge it.
The seeress is the soothing syrup for mental infants.
Blind Man's Fine Sight
The other day I watched a blind man go down the aisle of the car to
get off the train. Did you ever study the walk of a blind man? He
"pussyfooted" it along so carefully. He bumped his hand against a
seat. Then he did what every blind man does, he lifted his hand
higher and didn't bump any more seats.
I looked down my nose. "Ralph Parlette," I said to myself, "when
are you going to learn to see as well as that blind man? He learns
his lesson with one bump, and you have to go bumping into the same
things day after day and wonder why you have so much `bad luck'!"
Are You Going Up or Down?
Let me repeat, things that go downward will run themselves. Things
that go upward have to be pushed. Going upward is overcoming.
Notice that churches, schools, lyceums, chautauquas, reform
movements--things that go upward--never run themselves. They must
be pushed all the time.
And so with our own lives. Real living is conscious effort to go
upward to larger life.
If you are making no effort in your life, if you are moving in the
line of least resistance, depend upon it you are going downward.
Look out for the bumps!
Look over your community. Note the handful of brave, faithful,
unselfish souls who are carrying the community burdens and pushing
upward. Note the multitude making little or no effort, and even
getting in the way of the pushers.
Majorities do not rule. Majorities never have ruled. It is the
brave minority of thinking, self-sacrificing people that decides
the tomorrow of communities that go upward. Majorities are not
willing to make the effort to rule themselves. They are content to
drift and be amused and follow false gods that promise something
for nothing. They must be led--sometimes driven--by minorities.
People are like sheep. The shepherd can lead them to heaven--or to
Bumping the Prodigals
Human life is the story of the Prodigal Son. We look over the fence
of goodness into the mystery of the great unknown world beyond and
in that unknown realm we fondly imagine is happiness.
Down the great white way of the world go the million prodigals,
seeking happiness where nobody ever found happiness. Their days
fill up with disappointment, their vision becomes dulled. They
become anaemic feeding upon the husks.
They just must get their coffee-pot!
How they must be bumped to think upon their ways. Every time we do
wrong we get a Needless Knock. Every time! We may not always get
bumped on the outside, but we always get bumped on the inside. A
bump on the conscience is worse than a bump on the "noodle."
"I can do wrong and not get bumped. I have no feelings upon the
subject," somebody says, You can? You poor old sinner, you have
bumped your conscience numb. That is why you have no feelings on
the subject. You have pounded your soul into a jelly. You don't
know how badly you are hurt.
How the old devil works day and night to keep people amused and
so that they will not think upon their ways! How he keeps the music
and the dazzle going so they will not see they are bumping
Consider the Sticky Flypaper
Did you ever watch a fly get his Needless Knocks on the sticky
The last thing Mamma Fly said as Johnny went off to the city was,
"Remember, son, to stay away from the sticky flypaper. That is
where your poor dear father was lost." And Johnny Fly remembers for
several minutes. But when he sees all the smart young flies of his
set go over to the flypaper, he goes over, too. He gazes down at
his face in the stickiness. "Ah! how pretty I am! This sticky
flypaper shows me up better than anything at home. What a fine
place to skate. Just see how close I can fly over it and not get
stuck a bit. Mother is such a silly old worryer. She means all
right, of course, but she isn't up-to-date. We young set of modern
flies are naturally bright and have so many more advantages. You
can't catch us. They were too strict with me back home."
You see Johnny fly back and forth and have the time of his
naturally bright young life. Afterwhile, tho, he stubs his toe and
lands in the stickiness. "Well, well, how nice this is on the feet,
so soft and soothing!"
First he puts one foot down and pulls it out. That is a lot of fun.
It shows he is not a prisoner. He is a strong-minded fly. He can
quit it or play in it, just as he pleases. After while he puts two
feet down in the stickiness. It is harder to pull them out. Then he
puts three down and puts down a few more trying to pull them out.
"Really," says Johnny Fly bowing to his comrades also stuck around
him, "really, boys, you'll have to excuse me now. Good-bye!" But he
doesn't pull loose. He feels tired and he sits down in the sticky
flypaper. It is a fine place to stick around. All his young set of
flies are around him. He does like the company. They all feel the
same way--they can play in the sticky flypaper or let it alone,
just as they please, for they are strong-minded flies. They have
another drink and sing, "We won't go home till morning."
Johnny may get home, but he will leave a wing or a leg.
Most of them stay. They just settle down into the stickiness
with sleeping sickness.
The tuition in The College of Needless Knocks is very high indeed!
"Removed" or "Knocked Out"?
The man who goes to jail ought to congratulate himself if he is
guilty. It is the man who does not get discovered who is to be
pitied, for he must get some more knocks.
The world loves to write resolutions of respect. How often we
write, "Whereas, it has pleased an all-wise Providence to remove,"
when we might reasonably ask whether the victim was "removed" or
merely "knocked out."
There is a good deal of suicide charged up to Providence.
The College of Needful Knocks
The Bumps That Bump Into Us
BUT occasionally all of us get bumps that we do not bump into. They
bump into us. They are the guideboard knocks that point us to the
You were bumped yesterday or years ago. Maybe the wound has not yet
healed. Maybe you think it never will heal. You wondered why you
were bumped. Some of you in this audience are just now wondering
You were doing right--doing just the best you knew how--and yet
some blow came crushing upon you and gave you cruel pain.
It broke your heart. You have had your heart broken. I have had my
heart broken more times than I care to talk about now. Your home
was darkened, your plans were wrecked, you thought you had nothing
more to live for.
I am like you. I have had more trouble than anybody else. I have
never known anyone who had not had more trouble than anyone else.
But I am discovering that life only gets good after we have been
killed a few times. Each death is a larger birth.
We all must learn, if we have not already learned, that these blows
are lessons in The College of Needful Knocks. They point upward to
a higher path than we have been traveling.
In other words, we are raw material. You know what raw material
is--material that needs more Needful Knocks to make it more useful
The clothing we wear, the food we eat, the house we live in, all
have to have the Needful Knocks to become useful. And so does
humanity need the same preparation for greater usefulness.
I should like to know every person in this audience. But the ones
I should most appreciate knowing are the ones who have known the
most of these knocks--who have faced the great crises of life and
have been tried in the crucibles of affliction. For I am learning
that these lives are the gold tried in the fire.
The Sorrows of the Piano
See the piano on this stage? Good evening, Mr. Piano. I am glad to
see you. You are so shiny, beautiful, valuable and full of music,
if properly treated.
Do you know how you got upon this stage, Mr. Piano? You were bumped
here. This is no reflection upon the janitor. You became a piano by
the Needful Knocks.
I can see you back in your callow beginnings, when you were just a
tree--a tall, green tree. You were green! Only green things grow.
Did you get the meaning of that, children? I hope you are green.
There you stood in the forest, a perfectly good, green young tree.
You got your lessons, combed your hair, went to Sunday school and
were the best young tree you could be.
That is why you were bumped--because you were good! There came a
man into the woods with an ax, and he looked for the best trees
there to bump. He bumped you--hit you with the ax! How it hurt you!
And how unjust it was! He kept on hitting you. "The operation was
just terrible." Finally you fell, crushed, broken, bleeding.
It is a very sad story. They took you all bumped and bleeding to
the sawmill and they bumped and ripped you more. They cut you in
pieces and hammered you day by day.
They did not bump the little, crooked, dissipated, cigaret-stunted
trees. They were not worth bumping.
But shake, Mr. Piano. That is why you are on this stage. You were
bumped here. All the beauty, harmony and value were bumped into you.
The Sufferings of the Red Mud
One day I was up the Missabe road about a hundred miles north of
Duluth, Minnesota, and came to a hole in the ground. It was a big
hole--about a half-mile of hole. There were steam-shovels at work
throwing out of that hole what I thought was red mud.
"Kind sir, why are they throwing that red mud out of that hole?" I
asked a native.
"That hain't red mud. That's iron ore, an' it's the best iron ore
in the world."
"What is it worth?"
"It hain't worth nothin' here; that's why they're movin' it away."
There's red mud around every community that "hain't worth nothin'"
until you move it--send it to college or somewhere.
Not very long after this, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I saw some
of this same red mud. It had been moved over the Great Lakes and
the rails to what they call a blast furnace, the technological name
of which being The College of Needful Knocks for Red Mud.
I watched this red mud matriculate into a great hopper with
limestone, charcoal and other textbooks. Then they corked it up and
school began. They roasted it. It is a great thing to be roasted.
When it was done roasting they stopped. Have you noticed that they
always stop when anything is done roasting? If we are yet getting
roasted, perhaps we are not done!
Then they pulled the plug out of the bottom of the college and held
promotion exercises. The red mud squirted out into the sand. It was
not red mud now, because it had been roasted. It was a freshman--
pig iron, worth more than red mud, because it had been roasted.
Some of the pig iron went into another department, a big teakettle,
where it was again roasted, and now it came out a sophomore--steel,
worth more than pig iron.
Some of the sophomore steel went up into another grade where it was
roasted yet again and rolled thin into a junior. Some of that went
on up and up, at every step getting more pounding and roasting and
It seemed as tho I could hear the suffering red mud crying out, "O,
why did they take me away from my happy hole-in-the-ground? Why do
they pound me and break my heart? I have been good and faithful. O,
why do they roast me? O, I'll never get over this!"
But after they had given it a diploma--a pricemark telling how much
it had been roasted--they took it proudly all over the world,
labeled "Made in America." They hung it in show windows, they put
it in glass cases. Many people admired it and said, "Isn't that
fine work!" They paid much money for it now. They paid the most
money for what had been roasted the most.
If a ton of that red mud had become watch-springs or razor-blades,
the price had gone up into thousands of dollars.
My friends, you and I are the raw material, the green trees, the
red mud. The Needful Knocks are necessary to make us serviceable.
Every bump is raising our price. Every bump is disclosing a path to
a larger life. The diamond and the chunk of soft coal are exactly the
same material, say the chemists. But the diamond has gone to The College
of Needful Knocks more than has her crude sister of the coal-scuttle.
There is no human diamond that has not been crystallized in the
crucibles of affliction. There is no gold that has not been refined
in the fire.
Cripple Taught by Bumps
One evening when I was trying to lecture in a chautauqua tent in
Illinois, a crippled woman was wheeled into the tent and brought
right down to the foot of the platform. The subject was The
University of Hard Knocks. Presently the cripple's face was shining
brighter than the footlights.
She knew about the knocks!
Afterwards I went to her. "Little lady, I want to thank you for
coming here. I have the feeling that I spoke the words, but you are
the lecture itself."
What a smile she gave me! "Yes, I know about the hard knocks," she
said. "I have been in pain most of my life. But I have learned all
that I know sitting in this chair. I have learned to be patient and
kind and loving and brave."
They told me this crippled woman was the sweetest-spirited,
best-loved person in the town.
But her mother petulantly interrupted me. She had wheeled the
cripple into the tent. She was tall and stately. She was
well-gowned. She lived in one of the finest homes in the city. She
had everything that money could buy. But her money seemed unable to
buy the frown from her face.
"Mr. Lecture Man," she said, "why is everybody interested in my
daughter and nobody interested in me? Why is my daughter happy and
why am I not happy? My daughter is always happy and she hasn't a
single thing to make her happy. I am not happy. I have not been
happy for years. Why am I not happy?"
What would you have said? Just on the spur of the moment--I said,
"Madam, I don't want to be unkind, but I really think the reason
you are not happy is that you haven't been bumped enough."
I discover when I am unhappy and selfish and people don't use me
right, I need another bump.
The cripple girl had traveled ahead of her jealous mother. For
selfishness cripples us more than paralysis.
Schools of Sympathy
When I see a long row of cots in a hospital or sanitarium, I want
to congratulate the patients lying there. They are learning the
precious lessons of patience, sympathy, love, faith and courage.
They are getting the education in the humanities the world needs
more than tables of logarithms. Only those who have suffered can
sympathize. They are to become a precious part of our population.
The world needs them more than libraries and foundations.
The Silver Lining
There is no backward step in life. Whatever experiences come to us
are truly new chapters of our education if we are willing to learn
We think this is true of the good things that come to us, but we do
not want to think so of the bad things. Yet we grow more in lean
years than in fat years. In fat years we put it in our pockets. In
lean years we put it in our hearts. Material and spiritual
prosperity do not often travel hand-in-hand. When we become
materially very prosperous, so many of us begin to say, "Is not
this Babylon that I have builded?" And about that time there comes
some handwriting on the wall and a bump to save us.
Think of what might happen to you today. Your home might burn. We
don't want your home to burn, but somebody's home is burning just
now. A conflagration might sweep your town from the map. Your
business might wreck. Your fortune might be swept away. Your good
name might be tarnished. Bereavement might take from you the one
you love most.
You would never know how many real friends you have until then. But
look out! Some of your friends would say, "I am so sorry for you.
You are down and out." Do not believe that you are down and out,
for it is not true. The old enemy of humanity wants you to believe
you are down and out. He wants you to sympathize with yourself. You
are never down and out!
The truth is, another chapter of your real education has been
opened. Will you read the lesson of the Needful Knocks?
A great conflagration, a cyclone, a railroad wreck, an epidemic or
other public disaster brings sympathy, bravery, brotherhood and
love in its wake.
There is a silver lining to every hard knocks cloud.
Out of the trenches of the Great War come nations chastened by
sacrifice and purged of their dross.
"Shake The Barrel"
How We Decide Our Destinies
NOW as we learn the lessons of the Needless and the Needful Knocks,
we get wisdom, understanding, happiness, strength, success and
greatness. We go up in life. We become educated. Let me bring you
a picture of it.
One day the train stopped at a station to take water. Beside the
track was a grocery with a row of barrels of apples in front. There
was one barrel full of big, red, fat apples. I rushed over and got
a sack of the big, red, fat apples. Later as the train was under
way, I looked in the sack and discovered there was not a big, red,
fat apple there.
All I could figure out was that there was only one layer of the
big, red, fat apples on the top, and the groceryman, not desiring
to spoil his sign, had reached down under the top layer. He must
have reached to the bottom, for he gave me the worst mess of runts
and windfalls I ever saw in one sack. The things I said about the
grocery business must have kept the recording angel busy.
Then I calmed down. Did the groceryman do that on purpose? Does
the groceryman ever put the big apples on top and the little
ones down underneath?
Do you? Is there a groceryman in the audience?
Man of sorrows, you have been slandered. It never occurred to me
until that day on the train that the groceryman does not put the
big ones on top and the little ones down underneath. He does not
need to do it. It does itself. It is the shaking of the barrel that
pushes the big ones up and the little ones down.
Shake to Their Places
You laugh? You don't believe that? Maybe your roads are so good
and smooth that things do not shake on the road to town. But back
in the Black Swamp of Ohio we had corduroy roads. Did you ever see
a corduroy road? It was a layer of logs in the mud. Riding over it
was the poetry of motion! The wagon "hit the high spots." And as I
hauled a wagon-bed full of apples to the cider-mill over a corduroy
road, the apples sorted out by the jolting. The big apples would
try to get to the top. The little, runty apples would try to hold
a mass meeting at the bottom.
I saw that for thirty years before I saw it. Did you ever notice
how long you have to see most things before you see them? I saw
that when I played marbles. The big marbles would shake to the top
of my pocket and the little ones would rattle down to the bottom.
You children try that tomorrow. Do not wait thirty years to learn
that the big ones shake up and the little ones shake down. Put some
big ones and some little things of about the same density in a box
or other container and shake them. You will see the larger things
shake upward and the smaller shake downward. You will see every
thing shake to the place its size determines. A little larger one
shakes a little higher, and a little smaller one a little lower.
When things find their place, you can shake on till doomsday, but
you cannot change the place of one of the objects.
Mix them up again and shake. Watch them all shake back as they were
before, the largest on top and the smallest at the bottom.
Lectures in Cans
At this place the lecturer exhibits a glass jar more than
half-filled with small white beans and a few walnuts.
Let us try that right on the platform. Here is a glass jar and
inside of it you see two sizes of objects--a lot of little white
beans and some walnuts. You will pardon me for bringing such a
simple and crude apparatus before you in a lecture, but I ask your
forbearance. I am discovering that we can hear faster thru the eye
than thru the ear. I want to make this so vivid that you will never
forget it, and I do not want these young people to live thirty
years before they see it.
If there are sermons in stones, there must be lectures in cans.
This is a canned lecture. Let the can talk to you awhile.
You note as I shake the jar the little beans quickly settle down
and the big walnuts shake up. Not one bean asks, "Which way do I
go?" Not one walnut asks, "Which way do I go?" Each one
automatically goes the right way. The little ones go down and the
big ones go up.
Note that I mix them all up and then shake. Note that they arrange
themselves just as they were before.
Suppose those objects could talk. I think I hear that littlest bean
down in the bottom saying, "Help me! Help me! I am so unfortunate
and low down. I never had no chance like them big ones up there.
Help me up."
I say, "Yes, you little bean, I'll help you." So I lift him up to
the top. See! I have boosted him. I have uplifted him.
See, the can shakes. Back to the bottom shakes the little bean. And
I hear him say, "King's ex! I slipped. Try that again and I'll
stay on top." So I put him back again on top.
The can shakes. The little bean again shakes back to the bottom. He
is too small to stay up. He cannot stand prosperity.
Then I hear Little Bean say, "Well, if I cannot get to the top, you
make them big ones come down. Give every one an equal chance."
So I say, "Yes, sir, Little Bean. Here, you big ones on top, get
down. You Big Nuts get right down there on a level with Little
Bean!" And you see I put them down.
But I shake the can, and the big ones go right back to the top with
the same shakes that send the little ones back to the bottom.
There is only one way for those objects to change their place in
the can. Lifting them up or putting them down will not do it. But
change their size!
Equality of position demands quality of size. Let the little one
grow bigger and he will shake up. Let the big one grow smaller and
he will shake down.
The Shaking Barrel of Life
O, fellow apples! We are all apples in the barrel of life on the
way to the market place of the future. It is a corduroy road and
the barrel shakes all the time.
In the barrel are big apples, little apples, freckled apples,
speckled apples, green apples, and dried apples. A bad boy on the
front row shouted the other night, "And rotten apples!"
In other words, all the people of the world are in the great barrel
of life. That barrel is shaking all the time. Every community is
shaking, every place is shaking. The offices, the shops, the
stores, the schools, the pulpits, the homes--every place where we
live or work is shaking. Life is a constant survival of the
The same law that shakes the little ones down and the big ones up
in that can is shaking every person to the place he fits in the
barrel of life. It is sending small people down and great people
And do you not see that we are very foolish when we want to be
lifted up to some big place, or when we want some big person to be
put down to some little place? We are foolishly trying to overturn
the eternal law of life.
We shake right back to the places our size determines. We must get
ready for places before we can get them and keep them.
The very worst thing that can happen to anybody is to be
artificially boosted up into some place where he rattles.
I hear a good deal about destiny. Some people seem to think destiny
is something like a train and if we do not get to the depot in time
our train of destiny will run off and leave us, and we will have no
destiny. There is destiny--that jar.
If we are small we shall have a small destiny. If we are great we
shall have a great destiny. We cannot dodge our destiny.
Kings and Queens of Destiny
The objects in that jar cannot change their size. But thank God,
you and I are not helpless victims of blind fate. We are not
creatures of chance. We have it in our hands to decide our destiny
as we grow or refuse to grow.
We shake down if we become small; we shake up if we become great.
And when we have reached the place our size determines, we stay
there so long as we stay that size.
If we wish to change our place, we must first change our size. If
we wish to go down, we must grow smaller and we shall shake down.
If we wish to go up, we must grow greater, and we shall shake up.
Each person is doing one of three things consciously or
1. He is holding his place.
2. He is going down.
3. He is going up.
In order to hold his place he must hold his size. He must fill the
place. If he shrinks up he will rattle. Nobody can stay long where
he rattles. Nature abhors a rattler. He shakes down to a smaller place.
In order to stay the same size he must grow enough each day to supply
the loss by evaporation. Evaporation is going steadily on in lives
as well as in liquids. If we are not growing any, we are rattling.
We Compel Promotion
So you young people should keep in mind that you will shake into
the places you fit. And when you are in your places--in stores,
shops, offices or elsewhere, if you want to hold your place you
must keep growing enough to keep it tightly filled.
If you want a greater place, you simply grow greater and they
cannot keep you down. You do not ask for promotion, you compel
promotion. You grow greater, enlarge your dimensions, develop new
capabilities, do more than you are paid to do--overfill your place,
and you shake up to a greater place.
I believe if I were so fortunate or unfortunate as to have a number
of people working for me, I would have a jar in my office filled
with various sizes of objects. When an employee would come into the
office and say, "Isn't it about time I was getting a raise?" I
would say, "Go shake the jar, Charlie. That is the way you get
raised. As you grow greater you won't need to ask to be promoted.
You will promote yourself."
"Good Luck" and "Bad Luck"
This jar tells me so much about luck. I have noted that the lucky
people shake up and the unlucky people shake down. That is, the
lucky people grow great and the unlucky people shrivel and rattle.
Notice as I bump this jar. Two things happened. The little ones
shook down and the big ones shook up. The bump that was bad luck to
the little ones was good luck to the big ones. The same bump was
both good luck and bad luck.
Luck does not depend upon the direction of the bump, but upon the
size of the bump-ee!
The "Lucky" One
So everywhere you look you see the barrel sorting people according
to size. Every business concern can tell you stories like that of
the Chicago house where a number of young ladies worked. Some of
them had been there for a long time. There came a raw, green Dutch
girl from the country. It was her first office experience, and she
got the bottom job.
The other girls poked fun at her and played jokes upon her because
she was so green.
Do you remember that green things grow?
"Is not she the limit?" they oft spake one to another. She was. She
made many blunders. But it is now recalled that she never made the
same blunder twice. She learned the lesson with one helping to the
And she never "got done." When she had finished her work, the work
she had been put at, she would discover something else that ought
to be done, and she would go right on working, contrary to the
rules of the union! Without being told, mind you. She had that rare
faculty the world is bidding for--initiative.
The other girls "got done." When they had finished the work they
had been put at, they would wait--O, so patiently they would
wait--to be told what to do next.
Within three months every other girl in that office was asking
questions of the little Dutch girl. She had learned more about
business in three months than the others had learned in all the
time they had been there. Nothing ever escaped her. She had become
the most capable girl in the office.
The barrel did the rest. Today she is giving orders to all of them,
for she is the office superintendent.
The other girls feel hurt about it. They will tell you in
confidence that it was the rankest favoritism ever known. "There
was nothing fair about it. Jennie ought to have been made
superintendent. Jennie had been here four years."
The "Unlucky" One
The other day in a paper-mill I was standing beside a long machine
making shiny super-calendered paper. I asked the man working there
some questions about the machine, which he answered fairly well.
Then I asked him about a machine in the next room. He said, "I
don't know nothing about it, boss, I don't work in there."
I asked him about another process, and he replied, "I don't know
nothing about it, I never worked in there." I asked him about the
pulpmill. He replied, "No, I don't know nothing about that,
neither. I don't work in there." And he did not betray the least
desire to know anything about anything.
"How long have you worked here?"
"About twelve years."
Going out of the building, I asked the foreman, "Do you see that
man over there at the supercalendered machine?" pointing to the man
who didn't know. "Is he a human being?"
The foreman's face clouded. "I hate to talk to you about that man.
He is one of the kindest-hearted men we ever had in the works, but
we've got to let him go. We're afraid he'll break the machine. He
isn't interested, does not learn, doesn't try to learn."
So he had begun to rattle. Nobody can stay where he rattles. It is
grow or go.
Life's Barrel the Leveler
So books could be filled with just such stories of how people have
gone up and down. You may have noticed two brothers start with the
same chance, and presently notice that one is going up and the
other is going down.
Some of us begin life on the top branches, right in the sunshine of
popular favor, and get our names in the blue-book at the start.
Some of us begin down in the shade on the bottom branches, and we
do not even get invited. We often become discouraged as we look at
the top-branchers, and we say, "O, if I only had his chance! If I
were only up there I might amount to something. But I am too low
We can grow. Everybody can grow.
And afterwhile we are all in the barrel of life, shaken and bumped
about. There the real people do not often ask us, "On what branch
of that tree did you grow?" But they often inquire, "Are you big
enough to fill this place?"
The Fatal Rattle!
Now life is mainly routine. You and I and everybody must go on
doing pretty much the same things over and over. Every day we
appear to have about the same round of duties.
But if we let life become routine, we are shaking down. The very
routine of life must every day flash a new attractiveness. We must
be learning new things and discovering new joys in our daily
routine or we become unhappy. If we go on doing just the same
things in the same way day after day, thinking the same thoughts,
our eyes glued to precedents--just turning round and round in our places
and not growing any, pretty soon we become mere machines. We wear
smaller. The joy and juice go out of our lives. We shrivel and rattle.
The success, joy and glory of life are in learning, growing, going
forward and upward. That is the only way to hold our place.
The farmer must be learning new things about farming to hold his
place this progressive age as a farmer. The merchant must be
growing into a greater, wiser merchant to hold his place among his
competitors. The minister must be getting larger visions of the
ministry as he goes back into the same old pulpit to keep on
filling it. The teacher must be seeing new possibilities in the
same old schoolroom. The mother must be getting a larger horizon in
We only live as we grow and learn. When anybody stays in the same
place year after year and fills it, he does not rattle.
Unless the place is a grave!
I shiver as I see the pages of school advertisements in the
journals labeled "Finishing Schools," and "A Place to Finish Your
Child." I know the schools generally mean all right, but I fear the
students will get the idea they are being finished, which finishes
them. We never finish while we live. A school finishing is a
commencement, not an end-ment.
I am sorry for the one who says, "I know all there is to know about
that. You can't tell me anything about that." He is generally
The greater and wiser the man, the more anxious he is to be told.
I am sorry for the one who struts around saying, "I own the job.
They can't get along without me." For I feel that they are getting
ready to get along without him. That noise you hear is the
death-rattle in his throat.
Big business men keep their ears open for rattles in their
I am sorry for the man, community or institution that spends much
time pointing backward with pride and talking about "in my day!"
For it is mostly rattle. The live one's "my day" is today and
tomorrow. The dead one's is yesterday.
We Must Get Ready to Get
We young people come up into life wanting great places. I would not
give much for a young person (or any other person) who does not
want a great place. I would not give much for anybody who does not
look forward to greater and better things tomorrow.
We often think the way to get a great place is just to go after it
and get it. If we do not have pull enough, get some more pull. Get
some more testimonials.
We think if we could only get into a great place we would be great.
But unless we have grown as great as the place we would be a great
joke, for we would rattle. And when we have grown as great as the
place, that sized place will generally come seeking us.
We do not become great by getting into a great place, any more than
a boy becomes a man by getting into his father's boots. He is in
great boots, but he rattles. He must grow greater feet before he
gets greater boots. But he must get the feet before he gets the
We must get ready for things before we get them.
All life is preparation for greater things.
Moses was eighty years getting ready to do forty years work. The
Master was thirty years getting ready to do three years work. So
many of us expect to get ready in "four easy lessons by mail."
We can be a pumpkin in one summer, with the accent on the "punk."
We can be a mushroom in a day, with the accent on the "mush." But
we cannot become an oak that way.
The world is not greatly impressed by testimonials. The man who has
the most testimonials generally needs them most to keep him from
rattling. A testimonial so often becomes a crutch.
Many a man writes a testimonial to get rid of somebody. "Well, I
hope it will do him some good. Anyhow, I have gotten him off my
hands." I heard a Chicago superintendent say to his foreman, "Give
him a testimonial and fire him!"
It is dangerous to overboost people, for the higher you boost them
the farther they will fall.
The Menace of the Press-Notice
Now testimonials and press-notices very often serve useful ends. In
lyceum work, in teaching, in very many lines, they are often useful
to introduce a stranger. A letter of introduction is useful. A
diploma, a degree, a certificate, a license, are but different
kinds of testimonials.
The danger is that the hero of them may get to leaning upon them.
Then they become a mirror for his vanity instead of a monitor
for his vitality.
Most testimonials and press-notices are frank flatteries. They
magnify the good points and say little as possible about the bad
ones. I look back over my lyceum life and see that I hindered my
progress by reading my press-notices instead of listening to the
verdict of my audiences. I avoided frank criticism. It would hurt
me. Whenever I heard an adverse criticism, I would go and read a
few press-notices. "There, I am all right, for this clipping says
I am the greatest ever, and should he return, no hall would be able
to contain the crowd."
And my vanity bump would again rise.
Alas! How often I have learned that when I did return the hall that
was filled before was entirely too big for the audience! The
editors of America--God bless them! They are always trying to boost
a home enterprise--not for the sake of the imported attraction but
for the sake of the home folks who import it.
We must read people, not press-notices.
When you get to the place where you can stand aside and "see
yourself go by"--when you can keep still and see every fibre of you
and your work mercilessly dissected, shake hands with yourself and
rejoice, for the kingdom of success is yours.
The Artificial Uplift
There are so many loving, sincere, foolish, cruel uplift movements
in the land. They spring up, fail, wail, disappear, only to be
succeeded by twice as many more. They fail because instead of
having the barrel do the uplifting, they try to do it with a
The victims of the artificial uplift cannot stay uplifted. They
rattle back, and "the last estate of that man is worse than the
You cannot uplift a beggar by giving him alms. You are using the
derrick. We must feed the hungry and clothe the naked, but that is
not helping them, that is propping them. The beggar who asks you to
help him does not want to be helped. He wants to be propped. He
wants you to license him and professionalize him as a beggar.
You can only help a man to help himself. Help him to grow. You
cannot help many people, for there are not many people willing to
be helped on the inside. Not many willing to grow up.
When Peter and John went up to the temple they found the lame
beggar sitting at the gate Beautiful. Every day the beggar had been
"helped." Every day as they laid him at the gate people would pass
thru the gate and see him. He would say, "Help me!" "Poor man,"
they would reply, "you are in a bad fix. Here is help," and they
would throw him some money.
And so every day that beggar got to be more of a beggar. The public
"helped" him to be poorer in spirit, more helpless and a more
hopeless cripple. No doubt he belonged after a few days of the
"helping" to the Jerusalem Beggars' Union and carried his card.
Maybe he paid a commission for such a choice beggars' beat.
But Peter really helped him. "Silver and gold have I none; but such
as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise
up and walk."
Fix the People, Not the Barrel
I used to say, "Nobody uses me right. Nobody gives me a chance."
But if chances had been snakes, I would have been bitten a hundred
times a day. We need oculists, not opportunities.
I used to work on the "section" and get a dollar and fifteen cents
a day. I rattled there. I did not earn my dollar fifteen. I tried
to see how little I could do and look like I was working. I was the
Artful Dodger of Section Sixteen. When the whistle would blow--O,
joyful sound!--I would leave my pick hang right up in the air. I
would not bring it down again for a soulless corporation.
I used to wonder as I passed Bill Barlow's bank on the way down to
the section-house, why I was not president of that bank. I wondered
why I was not sitting upon one of those mahogany seats instead of
pumping a handcar. I was naturally bright. I used to say "If the
rich wasn't getting richer and the poor poorer, I'd be president of a
Did you ever hear that line of conversation? It generally comes
from somebody who rattles where he is.
I am so glad now that I did not get to be president of the bank.
They are glad, too! I would have rattled down in about fifteen
minutes, down to the peanut row, for I was only a peanut. Remember,
the hand-car job is just as honorable as the bank job, but as I was
not faithful over a few things, I would have rattled over many
The fairy books love to tell about some clodhopper suddenly
enchanted up into a king. But life's good fairies see to it that
the clodhopper is enchanted into readiness for kingship before he
lands upon the throne.
The only way to rule others is to learn to rule ourself.
I used to say, "Just wait till I get to Congress." I think they are
all waiting! "I'll fix things. I'll pass laws requiring all apples
to be the same size. Yes, I'll pass laws to turn the barrel upside
down, so the little ones will be on the top and the big ones will
be at the bottom."
But I had not seen that it wouldn't matter which end was the top,
the big ones would shake right up to it and the little ones would
shake down to the bottom.
The little man has the chance now, just as fast as he grows. You
cannot fix the barrel. You can only fix the people inside the
Have you ever noticed that the man who is not willing to fix
himself, is the one who wants to get the most laws passed to fix
other people? He wants something for nothing.
That Cruel Fate
O, I am so glad I did not get the things I wanted at the time I
wanted them! They would have been coffee-pots. Thank goodness, we
do not get the coffee-pot until we are ready to handle it.
Today you and I have things we couldn't have yesterday. We just
wanted them yesterday. O, how we wanted them! But a cruel fate
would not let us have them. Today we have them. They come to us as
naturally today, and we see it is because we have grown ready for
them, and the barrel has shaken us up to them.
Today you and I want things beyond our reach. O, how we want them!
But a cruel fate will not let us have them.
Do you not see that "cruel fate" is our own smallness and
unreadiness? As we grow greater we have greater things. We have
today all we can stand today. More would wreck us. More would start
us to rattling.
Getting up is growing up.
And this blessed old barrel of life is just waiting and anxious to
shake everybody up as fast as everybody grows.
How We Become Great
WE go up as we grow great. That is, we go up as we grow up. But so
many are trying to grow great on the outside without growing great
on the inside. They rattle on the inside!
They fool themselves, but nobody else.
There is only one greatness--inside greatness. All outside
greatness is merely an incidental reflection of the inside.
Greatness is not measured in any material terms. It is not measured
in inches, dollars, acres, votes, hurrahs, or by any other of the
world's yardsticks or barometers.
Greatness is measured in spiritual terms. It is education. It is
We go up from selfishness to unselfishness.
We go up from impurity to purity.
We go up from unhappiness to happiness.
We go up from weakness to strength.
We go up from low ideals to high ideals.
We go up from little vision to greater vision.
We go up from foolishness to wisdom.
We go up from fear to faith.
We go up from ignorance to understanding.
We go up by our own personal efforts. We go up by our own service,
sacrifice, struggle and overcoming. We push out our own skyline. We
rise above our own obstacles. We learn to see, hear, hold and
We may become very great, very educated, rise very high, and yet
not leave our kitchen or blacksmith shop. We take the kitchen or
blacksmith shop right up with us! We make it a great kitchen or
great blacksmith shop. It becomes our throne-room!
Come, let us grow greater. There is a throne for each of us.
"Getting to the Top"
"Getting to the top" is the world's pet delusion. There is no top.
No matter how high we rise, we discover infinite distances above.
The higher we rise, the better we see that life on this planet is
the going up from the Finite to the Infinite.
The world says that to get greatness means to get great things. So
the world is in the business of getting--getting great fortunes,
great lands, great titles, great applause, great fame, and
folderol. Afterwhile the poor old world hears the empty rattle of
the inside, and wails, "All is vanity. I find no pleasure in them.
Life is a failure." All outside life is a failure. Real life is in
being things on the inside, not in getting things on the outside.
I weary of the world's pink-sheet extras about "Getting to the Top"
and "Forging to the Front." Too often they are the sordid story of
a few scrambling over the heads of the weaker ones. Sometimes they
are the story of one pig crowding the other pigs out of the trough
and cornering all the swill!
The Secret of Greatness
Christ Jesus was a great Teacher. His mission was to educate
There came to him those two disciples who wanted to "get to the
top." Those two sons of Zebedee wanted to have the greatest places
in the new kingdom they imagined he would establish on earth.
They got very busy pursuing greatness, but I do not read that they
were half so busy preparing for greatness. They even had their
mother out electioneering for them.
"O, Master," said the mother, "grant that these my two sons may sit,
the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom."
The Master looked with love and pity upon their unpreparedness.
"Are ye able to drink of the cup?" Then he gave the only definition
of greatness that can ever stand: "Whosoever will be great among
you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among
you, let him be your servant."
That is we cannot be "born great," nor "have greatness thrust upon"
us. We must "achieve greatness" by developing it on the
inside--developing ability to minister and to serve.
We cannot buy a great arm. Our arm must become a great servant, and
thus it becomes great.
We cannot buy a great mind. Our mind must become a great servant,
and thus it becomes great.
We cannot buy a great character. It is earned in great moral
The First Step at Hand
This is the Big Business of life--going up, getting educated,
getting greatness on the inside. Getting greatness on the outside
is little business. Much of it mighty little.
Everybody's privilege and duty is to become great. And the joy of
it is that the first step is always nearest at hand. We do not have
to go off to New York or Chicago or go chasing around the world to
become great. It is a great stairway that leads from where our feet
are now upward for an infinite number of steps.
We must take the first step now. Most of us want to take the
hundredth step or the thousandth step now. We want to make some
spectacular stride of a thousand steps at one leap. That is why we
fall so hard when we miss our step.
We must go right back to our old place--into our kitchen or our
workshop or our office and take the first step, solve the problem
nearest at hand. We must make our old work luminous with a new
devotion. We must battle up over every inch. And as fast as we
solve and dissolve the difficulties and turn our burdens into
blessings, we find love, the universal solvent, shining out of our
lives. We find our spiritual influences going upward. So the winds
of earth are born; they rush in from the cold lands to the warm
upward currents. And so as our problems disappear and our life
currents set upward, the world is drawn toward us with its
We find our kitchen or workshop or office becoming a new throne
of power. We find the world around us rising up to call us blessed.
As we grow greater our troubles grow smaller, for we see them thru
greater eyes. We rise above them.
As we grow greater our opportunities grow greater. That is, we
begin to see them. They are around us all the time, but we must get
greater eyes to see them.
Generally speaking, the smaller our vision of our work, the more we
admire what we have accomplished and "point with pride." The
greater our vision, the more we see what is yet to be accomplished.
It was the sweet girl graduate who at commencement wondered how one
small head could contain it all. It was Newton after giving the
world a new science who looked back over it and said, "I seem to
have been only a boy playing on the seashore * * * while the great
ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me." That great ocean is
before us all.
The Widow's Mites
The great Teacher pointed to the widow who cast her two mites into
the treasury, and then to the rich men who had cast in much more.
"This poor widow hath cast in more than they all. For all these
have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she
of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had."
Tho the rich men had cast in more, yet it was only a part of their
possessions. The widow cast in less, but it was all she had. The
Master cared little what the footings of the money were in the
treasury. That is not why we give. We give to become great. The
widow had given all--had completely overcome her selfishness and
fear of want.
Becoming great is overcoming our selfishness and fear. He that
saveth his life shall lose it, but he that loseth his life for the
advancement of the kingdom of happiness on earth shall find it
great and glorified.
Our greatness therefore does not depend upon how much we give or
upon what we do, whether peeling potatoes or ruling a nation, but
upon the percentage of our output to our resources. Upon doing with
our might what our hands find to do. Quit worrying about what you
cannot get to do. Rejoice in doing the things you can get to do.
And as you are faithful over a few things you go up to be ruler
The world says some of us have golden gifts and some have copper
gifts. But when we cast them all into the treasury of right
service, there is an alchemy that transmutes every gift into gold.
Every work is drudgery when done selfishly. Every work becomes
golden when done in a golden manner.
Finding the Great People
I do not know who fitted the boards into the floor I stand upon. I
do not know all the great people who may come and stand upon this
floor. But I do know that the one who made the floor--and the one
who sweeps it--is just as great as anybody in the world who may
come and stand upon it, if each be doing his work with the same
love, faithfulness and capability.
We have to look farther than the "Who's Who" and Dun and Bradstreet
to make a roster of the great people of a community. You will find
the community heart in the precious handful who believe that the
service of God is the service of man.
The great people of the community serve and sacrifice for a better
tomorrow. They are the faithful few who get behind the churches,
the schools, the lyceum and chautauqua, and all the other movements
that go upward.
They are the ones who are "always trying to run things." They are
the happy ones, happy for the larger vision that comes as they go
higher by unselfish service. They are discovering that their
sweetest pay comes from doing many things they are not paid for.
They rarely get thanked, for the community does not often think of
thanking them until it comes time to draft the "resolutions of
I had to go to the mouth of a coal-mine in a little Illinois town,
to find the man the bureau had given as lyceum committeeman there.
I wondered what the grimy-faced man from the shaft, wearing the
miner's lamp in his cap, could possibly have to do with the lyceum
course. But I learned that he had all to do with it. He had sold
the tickets and had done all the managing. He was superintendent of
the Sunday school. He was the storm-center of every altruistic
effort in the town--the greatest man there, because the most
serviceable, tho he worked every day full time with his pick at his
The great people are so busy serving that they have little time to
strut and pose in the show places. Few of them are "prominent
clubmen." You rarely find their names in the society page. They
rarely give "brilliant social functions." Their idle families
attend to such things.
A Glimpse of Gunsaulus
I found a great man lecturing at the chautauquas. He preaches in
Chicago on Sundays to thousands. He writes books and runs a college
he founded by his own preaching. He is the mainspring of so many
uplift movements that his name gets into the papers about every day,
and you read it in almost every committee doing good things in
He had broken away from Chicago to have a vacation. Many people
think that a vacation means going off somewhere and stretching out
under trees or letting the mind become a blank. But this Chicago
preacher went from one chautauqua town to another, and took his
vacation going up and down the streets. He dug into the local
history of each place, and before dinner he knew more about the
place than most of the natives.
"There is a sermon for me," he would exclaim every half-hour. He
went to see people who were doing things. He went to see people who
were doing nothing. In every town he would discover somebody of
unusual attainment. He made every town an unusual town. He turned
the humdrum travel map into a wonderland. He scolded lazy towns and
praised enterprising ones. He stopped young fellows on the streets.
"What are you going to do in life?" Perhaps the young man would
say, "I have no chance." "You come to Chicago and I'll give you a
chance," the man on his vacation would reply.
So this Chicago preacher was busy every day, working overtime on
his vacation. He was busy about other people's business. He did not
once ask the price of land, nor where there was a good investment
for himself, but every day he was trying to make an investment in
His friends would sometimes worry about him. They would say, "Why
doesn't the doctor take care of himself, instead of taking care of
everybody else? He wears himself out for other people until he
hasn't strength enough left to lecture and do his own work."
Sometimes they were right about that.
But he that saveth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his
life in loving service finds it returning to him great and
glorious. This man's preaching did not make him great. His college
did not make him great. His books did not make him great. These are
the by-products. His life of service for others makes him
great--makes his preaching, his college and his books great.
This Chicago man gives his life into the service of humanity, and
it becomes the fuel to make the steam to accomplish the wonderful
things he does. Let him stop and "take care of himself," and his
career would stop.
If he had begun life by "taking care of himself" and "looking out
for number one," stipulating in advance every cent he was to get
and writing it all down in the contract, most likely Dr. Frank W.
Gunsaulus would have remained a struggling, discouraged preacher in
the backwoods of Morrow county, Ohio.
Give It Now
Gunsaulus often says, "You are planning and saving and telling
yourself that afterwhile you are going to give great things and do
great things. Give it now! Give your dollar now, rather than your
thousands afterwhile. You need to give it now, and the world needs
to get it now."
The Problem of "Preparedness"
Preparing Children to Live
THE problem of "preparedness" is the problem of preparing children
for life. All other kinds of "preparedness" fade into
insignificance before this. The history of nations shows that their
strength was not in the size of their armies and in the vastness
of their population and wealth, but in the strength and ideals
of the individual citizens.
As long as the nation was young and growing--as long as the people were
struggling and overcoming--that nation was strong. It was "prepared."
But when the struggle stopped, the strength waned, for the strength
came from the struggle. When the people became materially prosperous
and surrendered to ease and indulgence, they became fat, stall-fed weaklings.
Then they fell a prey to younger, hardier peoples.
Has the American nation reached that period?
Many homes and communities have reached it.
All over America are fathers and mothers who have struggled and
have become strong men and women thru their struggles, who are
saying, "Our children shall have better chances than we had. We are
living for our children. We are going to give them the best
education our money can buy."
Then, forgetful of how they became strong, they plan to take away
from their children their birthright--their opportunity to become
strong and "prepared"--thru struggle and service and overcoming.
Most "advantages" are disadvantages. Giving a child a chance
generally means getting out of his way. Many an orphan can be
grateful that he was jolted from his life-preserver and cruelly
forced to sink or swim. Thus he learned to swim.
"We are going to give our children the best education our money can buy."
They think they can buy an education--buy wisdom, strength and
understanding, and give it to them C. O. D! They seem to think they
will buy any brand they see--buy the home brand of education, or
else send off to New York or Paris or to "Sears Roebuck," and get
a bucketful or a tankful of education. If they are rich enough,
maybe they will have a private pipeline of education laid to their
home. They are going to force this education into them regularly
until they get them full of education. They are going to get them
fully inflated with education!
Toll the bell! There's going to be a "blow out." Those inflated
children are going to have to run on "flat tires."
Father and mother cannot buy their children education. All they can
do is to buy them some tools, perhaps, and open the gate and say,
"Sic 'em, Tige!" The children must get it themselves.
A father and mother might as well say, "We will buy our children
the strength we have earned in our arms and the wisdom we have
acquired in a life of struggle." As well expect the athlete to give
them his physical development he has earned in years of exercise.
As well expect the musician to give them the technic he has
acquired in years of practice. As well expect the scholar to give
them the ability to think he has developed in years of study. As
well expect Moses to give them his spiritual understanding acquired
in a long life of prayer.
They can show the children the way, but each child must make the
Here is a typical case.
The Story of "Gussie"
There was a factory town back East. Not a pretty town, but just a
great, dirty mill and a lot of little dirty houses around the mill.
The hands lived in the little dirty houses and worked six days of
the week in the big mill.
There was a little, old man who went about that mill, often saying,
"I hain't got no book l'arnin' like the rest of you." He was the
man who owned the mill. He had made it with his own genius out of
nothing. He had become rich and honored. Every man in the mill
loved him like a father.
He had an idolatry for a book.
He also had a little pink son, whose name was F. Gustavus Adolphus.
The little old man often said, "I'm going to give that boy the best
education my money can buy."
He began to buy it. He began to polish and sandpaper Gussie from
the minute the child could sit up in the cradle and notice things.
He sent him to the astrologer, the phrenologer and all other
"ologers" they had around there. When Gussie was old enough to
export, he sent the boy to one of the greatest universities in the
land. The fault was not with the university, not with Gussie, who
was bright and capable.
The fault was with the little old man, who was so wise and great
about everything else, and so foolish about his own boy. In the
blindness of his love he robbed his boy of his birthright.
The birthright of every child is the opportunity of becoming
great--of going up--of getting educated.
Gussie had no chance to serve. Everything was handed to him on a
silver platter. Gussie went thru that university about like a steer
from Texas goes thru Mr. Armour's institute of packnology in
Chicago. Did you ever go over into Packingtown and see a steer
receive his education?
You remember, then, that after he matriculates--after he gets the
grand bump, said steer does not have to do another thing. His
education is all arranged for in advance and he merely rides thru
and receives it. There is a row of professors with their sleeves
rolled up who give him the degrees. So as Mr. T. Steer of Panhandle
goes riding thru on that endless cable from his A-B-C's to his
eternal cold storage, each professor hits him a dab. He rides along
from department to department until he is canned.
They "canned" Gussie. He had a man hired to study for him. He rode
from department to department. They upholstered him, enameled him,
manicured him, sugar-cured him, embalmed him. Finally Gussie was
done and the paint was dry. He was a thing of beauty.
Gussie and Bill Whackem Gussie came back home with his education in
the baggage-car. It was checked. The mill shut down on a week day,
the first time in its history. The hands marched down to the depot,
and when the young lord alighted, the factory band played, "See,
the Conquering Hero Comes."
A few years later the mill shut down again on a week day. There was
crape hanging on the office door. Men and women stood weeping in
the streets. The little old man had been translated.
When they next opened up the mill, F. Gustavus Adolphus was at its head.
He had inherited the entire plant. "F. Gustavus Adolphus, President."
Poor little peanut! He rattled. He had never grown great enough to
fill so great a place. In two years and seven months the mill was
a wreck. The monument of a father's lifetime was wrecked in two
years and seven months by the boy who had all the "advantages."
So the mill was shut down the third time on a week day. It looked
as tho it never could open. But it did open, and when it opened it
had a new kind of boss. If I were to give the new boss a
descriptive name, I would call him "Bill Whackem." He was an
orphan. He had little chance. He had a new black eye almost every
day. But he seemed to fatten on bumps. Every time he was bumped he
would swell up. How fast he grew! He became the most useful man in
the community. People forgot all about Bill's lowly origin. They
got to looking up to him to start and run things.
So when the courts were looking for somebody big enough to take charge
of the wrecked mill, they simply had to appoint Hon. William Whackem.
It was Hon. William Whackem who put the wreckage together and made
the wheels go round, and finally got the hungry town back to work.
Colleges Give Us Tools
After that a good many people said it was the college that made a
fool of Gussie. They said Bill succeeded so well because he never
went to one of "them highbrow schools." I am sorry to say I thought
that way for a good while.
But now I see that Bill went up in spite of his handicaps. If he
had had Gussie's fine equipment he might have accomplished vastly more.
The book and the college suffer at the hands of their friends. They
say to the book and the college, "Give us an education." They cannot
do that. You cannot get an education from the book and the college
any more than you can get to New York by reading a travelers' guide.
You cannot get physical education by reading a book on gymnastics.
The book and the college show you the way, give you instruction and
furnish you finer working tools. But the real education is the
journey you make, the strength you develop, the service you perform
with these instruments and tools.
Gussie was in the position of a man with a very fine equipment of
tools and no experience in using them. Bill was the man with the
poor, homemade, crude tools, but with the energy, vision and
strength developed by struggle.
The "Hard Knocks Graduates"
For education is getting wisdom, understanding, strength,
greatness, physically, mentally and morally. I believe I know some
people liberally educated who cannot write their own names. But
they have served and overcome and developed great lives with the
poor, crude tools at their command.
In almost every community are what we sometimes call "hard knocks
graduates"--people who have never been to college nor have studied
many or any books. Yet they are educated to the degree they have
acquired these elements of greatness in their lives.
They realized how they have been handicapped by their poor mental tools.
That is why they say, "All my life I have been handicapped by lack of
proper preparation. Don't make my mistake, children, go to school."
The young person with electrical genius will make an electrical
machine from a few bits of junk. But send him to Westinghouse and
see how much more he will achieve with the same genius and with
Get the best tools you can. But remember diplomas, degrees are not
an education, they are merely preparations. When you are thru with
the books, remember, you are having a commencement, not an
end-ment. You will discover with the passing years that life is
just one series of greater commencements.
Go out with your fine equipment from your commencements into the
school of service and write your education in the only book you
ever can know--the book of your experience.
That is what you know--what the courts will take as evidence when
they put you upon the witness stand.
The Tragedy of Unpreparedness
The story of Gussie and Bill Whackem is being written in every
community in tears, failure and heartache. It is peculiarly a
tragedy of our American civilization today.
These fathers and mothers who toil and save, who get great farms,
fine homes and large bank accounts, so often think they can give
greatness to their children--they can make great places for them in
life and put them into them.
They do all this and the children rattle. They have had no chance
to grow great enough for the places. The child gets the blame for
making the wreck, even as Gussie was blamed for wrecking his
father's plant, when the child is the victim.
A man heard me telling the story of Gussie and Bill Whackem, and he
went out of my audience very indignant. He said he was very glad
his boy was not there to hear it. But that good, deluded father now
has his head bowed in shame over the career of his spoiled son.
I rarely tell of it on a platform that at the close of the lecture
somebody does not take me aside and tell me a story just as sad
from that community.
For years poor Harry Thaw was front-paged on the newspapers and
gibbeted in the pulpits as the shocking example of youthful
depravity. He seems never to have had a fighting chance to become
a man. He seems to have been robbed of his birthright from the
cradle. Yet the father of this boy who has cost America millions in
court and detention expenses was one of the greatest business
generals of the Keystone state. He could plat great coal empires
and command armies of men, but he seems to have been pitifully
ignorant of the fact that the barrel shakes.
It is the educated, the rich and the worldly wise who blunder most in
the training of their children. Poverty is a better trainer for the rest.
The menace of America lies not in the swollen fortunes, but in the
shrunken souls who inherit them.
But Nature's eliminating process is kind to the race in the barrel
shaking down the rattlers. Somebody said it is only three
generations from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves.
How long this nation will endure depends upon how many Gussie boys
this nation produces. Steam heat is a fine thing, but do you notice
how few of our strong men get their start with steam heat?
Children, Learn This Early
You boys and girls, God bless you! You live in good homes. Father
and mother love you and give you everything you need. You get to
thinking, "I won't have to turn my hand over. Papa and mamma will
take care of me, and when they are gone I'll inherit everything
they have. I'm fixed for life."
No, you are unfixed. You are a candidate for trouble. You are going
to rattle. Father and mother can be great and you can be a peanut.
You must solve your own problems and carry your own loads to have
a strong mind and back. Anybody who does for you regularly what you
can do for yourself--anybody who gives you regularly what you can
earn for yourself, is robbing you of your birthright.
Father and mother can put money in your pocket, ideas in your head
and food in your stomach, but you cannot own it save as you digest
it--put it into your life.
I have read somewhere about a man who found a cocoon and put it in
his house where he could watch it develop. One day he saw a little
insect struggling inside the cocoon. It was trying to get out of
the envelope. It seemed in trouble and needed help. He opened the
envelope with a knife and set the struggling insect free. But out
came a monstrosity that soon died. It had an over-developed body
and under-developed wings. He learned that helping the insect was
killing it. He took away from it the very thing it had to have--the
struggle. For it was this struggle of breaking its own way out of
that envelope that was needed to reduce its body and develop its
Not Packhorse Work
But remember there is little virtue in work unless it is getting us
somewhere. Just work that gets us three meals a day and a place to
lie down to sleep, then another day of the same grind, then a year
of it and years following until our machine is worn out and on the
junkpile, means little. "One day nearer home" for such a worker
means one day nearer the scrapheap.
Such a worker is like the packhorse who goes forward to keep ahead
of the whip. Such a worker is the horse we used to have hitched to
the sorghum mill. Round and round that horse went, seeing nothing,
hearing nothing, his head down, without ambition enough to prick up
his ears. Such work deadens and stupefies. The masses work about
that way. They regard work as a necessary evil. They are
right--such work is a necessary evil, and they make it such. They
follow their nose. "Dumb, driven cattle."
But getting a vision of life, and working to grow upward to it,
that is the work that brings the joy and the greatness.
When we are growing and letting our faculties develop, we will love
even the packhorse job, because it is our "meal ticket" that
enables us to travel upward.
"Helping" the Turkeys
One time I put some turkey eggs under the mother hen and waited day
by day for them to hatch. And sure enough, one day the eggs began
to crack and the little turkeys began to stick their heads out of
the shells. Some of the little turkeys came out from the shells all
right, but some of them stuck in the shells.
"Shell out, little turkeys, shell out," I urged, "for Thanksgiving
is coming. Shell out!"
But they stuck to the shells.
"Little turkeys, I'll have to help you. I'll have to shell you by
hand." So I picked the shells off. "Little turkeys, you will never
know how fortunate you are. Ordinary turkeys do not have these
advantages. Ordinary turkeys do not get shelled by hand."
Did I help them? I killed them, or stunted them. Not one of the turkeys
was "right" that I helped. They were runts. One of them was a regular
Harry Thaw turkey. They had too many silk socks. Too many "advantages."
Children, you must crack your own shells. You must overcome your
own obstacles to develop your own powers.
A rich boy can succeed, but he has a poorer chance than a poor boy.
The cards are against him. He must succeed in spite of his "advantages."
I am pleading for you to get a great arm, a great mind, a great
character, for the joy of having a larger life. I am pleading with
you to know the joy of overcoming and having the angels come and
minister to you.
Happiness in Our Work
Children, I am pleading with you to find happiness. All the world
is seeking happiness, but so many are seeking it by rattling down
instead of by shaking up.
The happiness is in going up--in developing a greater arm, a
greater mind, a greater character.
Happiness is the joy of overcoming. It is the delight of an
expanding consciousness. It is the cry of the eagle mounting
upward. It is the proof that we are progressing.
We find happiness in our work, not outside of our work. If we
cannot find happiness in our work, we have the wrong job. Find the
work that fits your talents, and stop watching the clock and
Loving friends used to warn me against "breaking down." They scared
me into "taking care" of myself. And I got to taking such good care
of myself and watching for symptoms that I became a physical wreck.
I saved myself by getting busier. I plunged into work I love. I
found my job in my work, not away from it, and the work refreshed
me and rejuvenated me. Now I do two men's work, and have grown from
a skinny, fretful, nervous wreck into a hearty, happy man. This has
been a great surprise to my friends and a great disappointment to
the undertaker. I am an editor in the daytime and a lecturer at
I edit all day and take a vacation lecturing at night. I lecture
almost every day of the year--maybe two or three times some
days--and then take a vacation by editing and writing. Thus every
day is jam full of play and vacation and good times. The year is
one round of joy, and I ought to pay people for the privilege of
speaking and writing to them instead of them paying me!
If I did not like my work, of course, I would be carrying a
terrible burden and would speedily collapse.
You see, I have no time nowadays to break down. I have no time to
think and grunt and worry about my body. And like Paul I am happy
to be "absent from the body and present with the Lord." Thus this
old body behaves just beautifully and wags along like the tail
follows the dog when I forget all about it. The grunter lets the
tail wag the dog.
I have never known a case of genuine "overwork." I have never known
of anyone killing himself by working. But I have known of
multitudes killing themselves by taking vacations.
The people who think they are overworking are merely overworrying.
This is one species of selfishness.
To worry is to doubt God.
To work at the things you love, or for those you love, is to turn
work into play and duty into privilege.
When we love our work, it is not work, it is life.
Many Kinds of Drunkards
The world is trying to find happiness in being amused. The world is
amusement-mad. Vacations, Coca Cola and moviemania!
What a sad, empty lot of rattlers! Look over the bills of the movies,
look over the newsstands and see a picture of the popular mind,
for these places keep just what the people want to buy. What a lot
of mental frog-pond and moral slum our boys and girls wade thru!
There are ten literary drunkards to one alcoholic drunkard. There
are a hundred amusement drunkards to one victim of strong drink.
And all just as hard to cure.
We have to have amusement, but if we fill our lives with nothing
but amusement, we never grow. We go thru our lives babies with new
rattleboxes and "sugar-tits."
Almost every day as I go along the street to some hall to lecture,
I hear somebody asking, "What are they going to have in the hall
"Going to have a lecture."
"Lecture?" said with a shiver as tho it was "small pox." "I ain't
goin.' I don't like lectures."
The speaker is perfectly honest. He has no place to put a lecture.
I am not saying that he should attend my lecture, but I am grieving
at what underlies his remark. He does not want to think. He wants
to follow his nose around. Other people generally lead his nose.
The man who will not make the effort to think is the great menace
to the nation. The crowd that drifts and lives for amusement is the
crowd that finds itself back near the caboose, and as the train of
progress leaves them, they wail, they "never had no chanct." They
want to start a new party to reform the government.
The Lure of the City
Do you ever get lonely in a city? How few men and women there. A
jam of people, most of them imitations--most of them trying to look
like they get more salary. Poor, hungry, doped butterflies of the
bright lights,--hopers, suckers and straphangers! Down the great
white way they go chasing amusement to find happiness. They must be
amused every moment, even when they eat, or they will have to be
alone with their empty lives.
The Prodigal Son came to himself afterwhile and thought upon his
ways. Then he arose and went to his father's house. Whenever one
will stop chasing amusements long enough to think upon his ways, he
will arise and go to his father's house of wisdom. But there is no
hope for the person who will not stop and think. And the devil
works day and night shifts keeping the crowd moving on.
That is why the crowd is not furnishing the strong men and women.
We must have amusement and relaxation. Study your muscles. First
they contract, then they relax. But the muscle that goes on
continually relaxing is degenerating. And the individual, the
community, the nation that goes on relaxing without
contracting--without struggling and overcoming--is degenerating.
The more you study your muscles, the more you learn that while one
muscle is relaxing another is contracting. So you must learn that
your real relaxation, vacation and amusement, are merely changing
over to contracting another set of muscles.
Go to the bank president's office, go to the railroad magnate's
office, go to the great pulpit, to the college chair--go to any
place of great responsibility in a city and ask the one who fills
the place, "Were you born in this city?"
The reply is almost a monotony. "I born in this city? No, I was
born in Poseyville, Indiana, and I came to this city forty years
ago and went to work at the bottom."
He glows as he tells you of some log-cabin home, hillside or
farmside where he struggled as a boy. Personally, I think this
log-cabin ancestry has been over-confessed for campaign purposes.
Give us steam heat and push-buttons. There is no virtue in a
log-cabin, save that there the necessity for struggle that brings
strength is most in evidence. There the young person gets the
struggle and service that makes for strength and greatness. And as
that young person comes to the city and shakes in the barrel among
the weaklings of the artificial life, he rises above them like the
eagle soars above a lot of chattering sparrows.
The cities do not make their own steam. The little minority from
the farms controls the majority. The red blood of redemption flows
from the country year by year into the national arteries, else
these cities would drop off the map.
If it were not for Poseyville, Indiana, Chicago would disappear.
If it were not for Poseyville, New York would disintegrate
for lack of leaders.
"Hep" and "Pep" for the Home Town
But so many of the home towns of America are sick. Many are dying.
Many are dead.
It is the lure of the city--and the lure-lessness of the country.
The town the young people leave is the town the young people ought
to leave. Somebody says, "The reason so many young people go to
hell is because they have no other place to go."
What is the matter with the small town? Do not blame it all upon
the city mail order house. With rural delivery, daily papers,
telephones, centralized schools, automobiles and good roads, there
are no more delightful places in the world to live than in the
country or in the small town. They have the city advantages plus
sunshine, air and freedom that the crowded cities cannot have.
I asked the keeper who was showing me thru the insane asylum at
Weston, West Virginia, "You say you have nearly two thousand insane
people in this institution and only a score of guards to keep them
in. Aren't you in danger? What is to hinder these insane people
from getting together, organizing, overpowering the few guards and
The keeper was not in the least alarmed at the question. He smiled.
"Many people say that. But they don't understand. If these people
could get together they wouldn't be in this asylum. They are
insane. No two of them can agree upon how to get together and how
to break out. So a few of us can hold them."
It would be almost unkind to carry this further, but I have been
thinking ever since that about three-fourths of the small towns of
America have one thing in common with the asylum folks--they can't
get together. They cannot organize for the public good. They break
up into little antagonistic social, business and even religious
factions and neutralize each other's efforts.
A lot of struggling churches compete with each other instead of
massing for the common good. And when the churches fight, the devil
stays neutral and furnishes the munitions for both sides.
So the home towns stagnate and the young people with visions go
away to the cities where opportunity seems to beckon. Ninety-nine
out of a hundred of them will jostle with the straphangers all
their lives, mere wheels turning round in a huge machine.
Ninety-nine out of a hundred of them might have had a larger
opportunity right back in the home town, had the town been awake
and united and inviting.
We must make the home town the brightest, most attractive, most
promising place for the young people. No home town can afford to
spend its years raising crops of young people for the cities. That
is the worst kind of soil impoverishment--all going out and nothing
coming back. That is the drain that devitalizes the home towns more
than all the city mail order houses.
America is to be great, not in the greatness of a few crowded
cities, but in the greatness of innumerable home towns.
The slogan today should be, For God and Home and the Home Town!
A School of Struggle
Dr. Henry Solomon Lehr, founder of the Ohio Northern University at
Ada, Ohio, one of Ohio's greatest educators, used to say with
pride, "Our students come to school; they are not sent."
He encouraged his students to be self-supporting, and most of them
were working their way thru school. He made the school calendar and
courses elastic to accommodate them. He saw the need of combining
the school of books with the school of struggle. He organized his
school into competing groups, so that the student who had no
struggle in his life would at least have to struggle with the
others during his schooling.
He pitted class against class. He organized great literary and
debating societies to compete with each other. He arranged contests
for the military department. His school was one surging mass of
contestants. Yet each student felt no compulsion. Rather he felt
that he was initiating an individual or class effort to win. The
literary societies vied with each other in their programs and in
getting new members, going every term to unbelievable efforts to
win over the others. They would go miles out on the trains to
intercept new students, even to their homes in other states. Each
old student pledged new students in his home country. The military
companies turned the school into a military camp for weeks each
year, scarcely sleeping while drilling for a contest flag.
Those students went out into the world trained to struggle. I do
not believe there is a school in America with a greater alumni roll
of men and women of uniformly greater achievement.
I believe the most useful schools today are schools of struggle
schools offering encouragement and facilities for young people to
work their way thru and to act upon their own initiative.
Men Needed More Than Millions
We are trying a new educational experiment today.
The old "deestrick" school is passing, and with it the small
academies and colleges, each with its handful of students around a
teacher, as in the old days of the lyceum in Athens, when the
pupils sat around the philosopher in the groves.
From these schools came the makers and the preservers of the nation.
Today we are building wonderful public schools with equally
wonderful equipment. Today we are replacing the many small colleges
with a few great centralized state normal schools and state
universities. We are spending millions upon them in laboratories,
equipment and maintenance. Today we scour the earth for specialists
to sit in the chairs and speak the last word in every department of
O, how the students of the "dark ages" would have rejoiced to see
this day! Many of them never saw a germ!
But each student has the same definite effort to make in
assimilation today as then. Knowing and growing demand the same
personal struggle in the cushions of the "frat" house as back on
the old oak-slab bench with its splintered side up.
I am anxiously awaiting the results. I am hoping that the boys and
girls who come out in case-lots from these huge school plants will
not be rows of lithographed cans on the shelves of life. I am
hoping they will not be shorn of their individuality, but will have
it stimulated and unfettered. I am anxious that they be not
veneered but inspired, not denatured but discovered.
All this school machinery is only machinery. Back of it must be
men--great men. I am anxious that the modern school have the modern
equipment demanded to serve the present age. But I am more anxious
that each student come in vital touch with great men. We get life
from life, not from laboratories, and we have life more abundantly
as our lives touch greater lives.
A school is vastly more than machinery, methods, microscopes and millions.
Many a small school struggling to live thinks that all it needs is
endowment, when the fact is that its struggle for existence and the
spirit of its teachers are its greatest endowment. And sometimes
when the money endowment comes the spiritual endowment goes in
fatty degeneration. Some schools seem to have been visited by
calamities in the financial prosperity that has engulfed them.
Can we keep men before millions, and keep our ideals untainted by
foundations? That is the question the age is asking.
You and I are very much interested in the answer.
The Salvation of a "Sucker"
The Fiddle and the Tuning
HOW long it takes to learn things! I think I was thirty-four years
learning one sentence, "You can't get something for nothing." I
have not yet learned it. Every few days I stumble over it
For that sentence utters one of the fundamentals of life that
underlies every field of activity.
What is knowing?
One day a manufacturer took me thru his factory where he makes
fiddles. Not violins--fiddles.
A violin is only a fiddle with a college education.
I have had the feeling ever since that you and I come into this
world like the fiddle comes from the factory. We have a body and a
neck. That is about all there is either to us or to the fiddle. We
are empty. We have no strings. We have no bow--yet!
When the human fiddles are about six years old they go into the
primary schools and up thru the grammar grades, and get the first
string--the little E string. The trouble is so many of these human
fiddles think they are an orchestra right away. They want to quit
school and go fiddling thru life on this one string!
We must show these little fiddles they must go back into school and
go up thru all the departments and institutions necessary to give
them the full complement of strings for their life symphonies.
After all this there comes the commencement, and the violin comes
forth with the E, A, D and G strings all in place. Educated now?
Why is a violin? To wear strings? Gussie got that far and gave a
lot of discord. The violin is to give music.
So there is much yet to do after getting the strings. All the book
and college can do is to give the strings--the tools. After that
the violin must go into the great tuning school of life. Here the
pegs are turned and the strings are put in tune. The music is the
knowing. Learning is tuning.
You do not know what you have memorized, you know what you have
vitalized, what you have written in the book of experience.
Gussie says, "I have read it in a book." Bill Whackem says," I
Reading and Knowing
All of us are Christopher Columbuses, discovering the same new-old
continents of Truth. That is the true happiness of
life--discovering Truth. We read things in a book and have a hazy
idea of them. We hear the preacher utter truths and we say with
little feeling, "Yes, that is so." We hear the great truths of life
over and over and we are not excited. Truth never excites--it is
falsehood that excites--until we discover it in our lives. Until we
see it with our own eyes. Then there is a thrill. Then the old
truth becomes a new blessing. Then the oldest, driest platitude
crystallizes into a flashing jewel to delight and enrich our
consciousness. This joy of discovery is the joy of living.
There is such a difference between reading a thing and knowing a
thing. We could read a thousand descriptions of the sun and not
know the sun as in one glimpse of it with our own eyes.
I used to stand in the row of blessed little rascals in the
"deestrick" school and read from McGuffey's celebrated literature,
I did not learn it. I wish I had learned by reading it that if I
play with the fire I will get my fingers burned. I had to slap my
hands upon hot stoves and coffee-pots, and had to get many kinds of
blisters in order to learn it.
Then I had to go around showing the blisters, boring my friends and
taking up a collection of sympathy. "Look at my bad luck!" Fool!
This is not a lecture. It is a confession! It seems to me if you in
the audience knew how little I know, you wouldn't stay.
"You Can't Get Something for Nothing"
Yes, I was thirty-four years learning that one sentence. "You can't
get something for nothing." That is, getting it in partial tune. It
took me so long because I was naturally bright. It takes that kind
longer than a human being. They are so smart you cannot teach them
with a few bumps. They have to be pulverized.
That sentence takes me back to the days when I was a "hired man" on
the farm. You might not think I had ever been a "hired man" on the
farm at ten dollars a month and "washed, mended and found." You see
me here on this platform in my graceful and cultured manner, and
you might not believe that I had ever trained an orphan calf to
drink from a copper kettle. But I have fed him the fingers of this
hand many a time. You might not think that I had ever driven a yoke
of oxen and had said the words. But I have!
I remember the first county fair I ever attended. Fellow sufferers,
you may remember that at the county fair all the people sort out to
their own departments. Some people go to the canned fruit
department. Some go to the fancywork department. Some go to the
swine department. Everybody goes to his own department. Even the
"suckers"! Did you ever notice where they go? That is where I
went--to the "trimming department."
I was in the "trimming department" in five minutes. Nobody told me
where it was. I didn't need to be told. I gravitated there. The
barrel always shakes all of one size to one place. You notice
that--in a city all of one size get together.
Right at the entrance to the "local Midway" I met a gentleman. I
know he was a gentleman because he said he was a gentleman. He had
a little light table he could move quickly. Whenever the climate
became too sultry he would move to greener pastures. On that table
were three little shells in a row, and there was a little pea under
the middle shell. I saw it there, being naturally bright. I was the
only naturally bright person around the table, hence the only one
who knew under which shell the little round pea was hidden.
Even the gentleman running the game was fooled. He thought it was
under the end shell and bet me money it was under the end shell.
You see, this was not gambling, this was a sure thing. (It was!)
I had saved up my money for weeks to attend the fair. I bet it all
on that middle shell. I felt bad. It seemed like robbing father.
And he seemed like a real nice old gentleman, and maybe he had a
family to keep. But I would teach him a lesson not to "monkey" with
people like me, naturally bright.
But I needn't have felt bad. I did not rob father. Father cleaned
me out of all I had in about five seconds.
I went over to the other side of the fairgrounds and sat down. That
was all I had to do now--just go, sit down. I couldn't see the
mermaid now or get into the grandstand.
Sadly I thought it all over, but I did not get the right answer.
I said the thing every fool does say when he gets bumped and fails
to learn the lesson from the bump. I said, "Next time I shall be
When anybody says that he is due for a return date.
I Bought the Soap
Learn? No! Within a month I was on the street a Saturday night when
another gentleman drove into town. He stopped on the public square
and stood up in his buggy. "Let the prominent citizens gather
around me, for I am going to give away dollars."
Immediately all the prominent "suckers" crowded around the buggy.
"Gentlemen, I am introducing this new medicinal soap that cures all
diseases humanity is heir to. Now just to introduce and advertise,
I am putting these cakes of Wonder Soap in my hat. You see I am
wrapping a ten-dollar bill around one cake and throwing it into the
hat. Now who will give me five dollars for the privilege of taking
a cake of this wonderful soap from my hat--any cake you want, gentlemen!"
And right on top of the pile was the cake with the ten wrapped
around it! I jumped over the rest to shove my five (two weeks' farm
work) in his hands and grab that bill cake. But the bill
disappeared. I never knew where it went. The man whipped up his
horse and also disappeared. I never knew where he went.
My "Fool Drawer"
I grew older and people began to notice that I was naturally bright
and therefore good picking. They began to let me in on the ground
floor. Did anybody ever let you in on the ground floor? I never
could stick. Whenever anybody let me in on the ground floor it
seemed like I would always slide on thru and land in the cellar.
I used to have a drawer in my desk I called my "fool drawer." I
kept my investments in it. I mean, the investments I did not have
to lock up. You get the pathos of that--the investments nobody
wanted to steal. And whenever I would get unduly inflated I would
open that drawer and "view the remains."
I had in that drawer the deed to my Oklahoma corner-lots. Those
lots were going to double next week. But they did not double I
doubled. They still exist on the blueprint and the Oklahoma
metropolis on paper is yet a wide place in the road.
I had in that drawer my deed to my rubber plantation. Did you ever
hear of a rubber plantation in Central America? That was mine.
I had there my oil propositions. What a difference, I have learned,
between an oil proposition and an oil well! The learning has been
I used to wonder how I ever could spend my income. I do not wonder now.
I wonder how I will make it.
I had in that drawer my "Everglade" farm. Did you ever hear of the
"Everglades"? I have an alligator ranch there. It is below the
frost-line, also below the water-line. I will sell it by the
I had also a bale of mining stock. I had stock in gold mines and
silver mines. Nobody knows how much mining stock I have owned.
Nobody could know while I kept that drawer shut. As I looked over
my gold and silver mine stock, I often noticed that it was printed
in green. I used to wonder why they printed it in green--wonder if
they wanted it to harmonize with me! And I would realize I had so
much to live for--the dividends. I have been so near the dividends
I could smell them. Only one more assessment, then we will cut the
melon! I have heard that all my life and never got a piece of the rind.
Why go farther? I am not half done confessing. Each bump only
increased my faith that the next ship would be mine. Good, honest,
retired ministers would come periodically and sell me stock in some
new enterprise that had millions in it--in its prospectus. I would
buy because I knew the minister was honest and believed in it. He
was selling it on his reputation. Favorite dodge of the promoter to
get the ministers to sell his shares.
I was also greatly interested in companies where I put in one
dollar and got back a dollar or two of bonds and a dollar or two of
stock. That was doubling and trebling my money over night. An old
banker once said to me, "Why don't you invest in something that
will pay you five or six per cent. and get it?"
I pitied his lack of vision. Bankers were such "tightwads." They
had no imagination! Nothing interested me that did not offer fifty
or a hundred per cent.--then. Give me the five per cent. now!
By the time I was thirty-four I was a rich man in worthless paper.
It would have been better for me if I had thrown about all my
savings into the bottom of the sea.
Then I got a confidential letter from a friend of our family I had
never met. His name was Thomas A. Cleage, and he was in the Rialto
Building, St. Louis, Missouri. He wrote me in extreme confidence,
"You have been selected."
Were you ever selected? If you were, then you know the thrill that
rent my manly bosom as I read that letter from this man who said he
was a friend of our family. "You have been selected because you are
a prominent citizen and have a large influence in your community.
You are a natural leader and everybody looks up to you."
He knew me! He was the only man who did know me. So I took the
cork clear under.
"Because of your tremendous influence you have been selected to go
in with us in the inner circle and get a thousand per cent.
Did you get that? I hope you did. I did not! But I took a night
train for St. Louis. I was afraid somebody might beat me there if
I waited till next day. I sat up all night in a day coach to save
money for Tom, the friend of our family. But I see now I need not
have hurried so. They would have waited a month with the
sheep-shears ready. Lambie, lambie, lambie, come to St. Louis!
I don't get any sympathy from this crowd. You laugh at me. You
respect not my feelings. I am not going to tell you a thing that
happened in St. Louis. It is none of your business!
O, I am so glad I went to St. Louis. Being naturally bright, I
could not learn it at home, back in Ohio. I had to go clear down to
St. Louis to Tom Cleage's bucket-shop and pay him eleven hundred
dollars to corner the wheat market of the world. That is all I paid
him. I could not borrow any more. I joined what he called a "pool."
I think it must have been a pool, for I know I fell in and got
That bump set me to thinking. My fever began to reduce. I got the
thirty-third degree in financial suckerdom for only eleven hundred
I have always regarded Tom as one of my great school teachers. I
have always regarded the eleven hundred as the finest investment I
had made up to that time, for I got the most out of it. I do not
feel hard toward goldbrick men and "blue sky" venders. I sometimes
feel that we should endow them. How else can we save a sucker? You
cannot tell him anything, because he is naturally bright and knows
better. You simply have to trim him till he bleeds.
I Am Cured
It is worth eleven hundred dollars every day to know that one
sentence, You cannot get something for nothing. Life just begins to
get juicy when you know it. Today when I open a newspaper and see
a big ad, "Grasp a Fortune Now!" I will not do it! I stop my
subscription to that paper. I simply will not take a paper with
that ad in it, for I have graduated from that class.
I will not grasp a fortune now. Try me, I dare you! Bring a
fortune right up on this platform and put it down there on the
floor. I will not grasp it. Come away, it is a coffee-pot!
Today when somebody offers me much more than the legal rate of
interest I know he is no friend of our family.
If he offers me a hundred per cent. I call for the police!
Today when I get a confidential letter that starts out, "You have
been selected--" I never read farther than the word "selected."
Meeting is adjourned. I select the waste-basket. Here, get in there
just as quick as you can. I was selected!
O, Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son! Learn it early in life. The
law of compensation is never suspended. You only own what you earn.
You can't get something for nothing. If you do not learn it, you
will have to be "selected." There is no other way for you, because
you are naturally bright. When you get a letter, "You have been
selected to receive a thousand per cent. dividends," it means you
have been selected to receive this bunch of blisters because you
look like the biggest sucker on the local landscape.
The other night in a little town of perhaps a thousand, a banker
took me up into his office after the lecture in which I had related
some of the above experiences. "The audience laughed with you and
thought it very funny," said he. "I couldn't laugh. It was too
pathetic. It was a picture of what is going on in our own little
community year after year. I wish you could see what I have to see.
I wish you could see the thousands of hard-earned dollars that go
out of our community every year into just such wildcat enterprises
as you described. The saddest part of it is that the money nearly
always goes out of the pockets of the people who can least afford
to lose it."
Absalom, wake up! This is bargain night for you. I paid eleven
hundred dollars to tell you this one thing, and you get it for a
dollar or two. This is no cheap lecture. It cost blood.
Learn that the gambler never owns his winnings. The man who
accumulates by sharp practices or by undue profits never owns it.
Even the young person who has large fortune given him does not own
it. We only own what we have rendered definite service to bound.
The owning is in the understanding of values.
This is true physically, mentally, morally. You only own what you
have earned and stored in your life, not merely in your pocket,
stomach or mind.
I often think if it takes me thirty-four years to begin to learn
one sentence, I see the need of an eternity.
To me that is one of the great arguments for eternal life--how slowly
I learn, and how much there is to learn. It will take an eternity!
Those Commencement Orations
The young person says, "By next June I shall have finished my
Bless them all! They will have put another string on their fiddle.
After they "finish" they have a commencement, not an end-ment, as
they think. This is not to sneer, but to cheer. Isn't it glorious
that life is one infinite succession of commencements and
I love to attend commencements. The stage is so beautifully
decorated and the joy of youth is everywhere. There is a row of
geraniums along the front of the stage and a big oleander on the
side. There is a long-whiskered rug in the middle. The graduates
sit in a semicircle upon the stage in their new patent leather. I
know how it hurts. It is the first time they have worn it.
Then they make their orations. Every time I hear their orations I
like them better, because every year I am getting younger. Damsel
Number One comes forth and begins:
"Beyond the Alps (sweep arms forward to the left, left arm leading)
lieth Italy!" (Bring arms down, letting fingers follow the wrist.
How embarrassing at a commencement for the fingers not to follow
the wrist! It is always a shock to the audience when the wrist
sweeps downward and the fingers remain up in the air. So by all
means, let the fingers follow the wrist, just as the elocution
teacher marked on page 69.)
Applause, especially from relatives.
Sweet Girl Graduate Number 2, generally comes second. S. G. G. No.
2 stands at the same leadpencil mark on the floor, resplendent in
a filmy creation caught with something or other.
"We (hands at half-mast and separating) are rowing (business of
propelling aerial boat with two fingers of each hand, head
inclined). We are not drifting (hands slide downward)."
Children, we are not laughing at you. We are laughing at ourselves.
We are laughing the happy laugh at how we have learned these great
truths that you have memorized, but not vitalized.
You get the most beautiful and sublime truths from Emerson's
essays. (How did they ever have commencements before Emerson?) But
that is not knowing them. You cannot know them until you have lived
them. It is a grand thing to say, "Beyond the Alps lieth Italy,"
but you can never really say that until you know it by struggling
up over Alps of difficulty and seeing the Italy of promise and
victory beyond. It is fine to say, "We are rowing and not
but you cannot really say that until you have pulled on the oar.
O, Gussie, get an oar!
My Maiden Sermon
Did you ever hear a young preacher, just captured, just out of a factory?
Did you ever hear him preach his "maiden sermon"? I wish you had heard
mine. I had a call. At least, I thought I had a call. I think now I
was "short-circuited." The "brethren" waited upon me and told me I had
been "selected": Maybe this was a local call, not long distance.
They gave me six weeks in which to load the gospel gun and get
ready for my try-out. I certainly loaded it to the muzzle.
But I made the mistake I am trying to warn you against. Instead of
going to the one book where I might have gotten a sermon--the book
of my experience, I went to the books in my father's library. "As
the poet Shakespeare has so beautifully said," and then I took a
chunk of Shakespeare and nailed it on page five of my sermon. "List
to the poet Tennyson." Come here, Lord Alfred. So I soldered these
fragments from the books together with my own native genius. I
worked that sermon up into the most beautiful splurges and spasms.
I bedecked it with metaphors and semaphores. I filled it with
climaxes, both wet and dry. I had a fine wet climax on page
fourteen, where I had made a little mark in the margin which meant
"cry here." This was the spilling-point of the wet climax. I was to
cry on the lefthand side of the page.
I committed it all to memory, and then went to a lady who taught
expression, to get it expressed. You have to get it expressed.
I got the most beautiful gestures nailed into almost every page.
You know about gestures--these things you make with your arms in
the air as you speak. You can notice it on me yet.
I am not sneering at expression. Expression is a noble art. All
life is expression. But you have to get something to express. Here
I made my mistake. I got a lot of fine gestures. I got an
express-wagon and got no load for it. So it rattled. I got a
necktie, but failed to get any man to hang it upon. I got up before
a mirror for six weeks, day by day, and said the sermon to the
glass. It got so it would run itself. I could have gone to sleep
and that sermon would not have hesitated.
Then came the grand day. The boy wonder stood forth and before his
large and enthusiastic concourse delivered that maiden sermon more
grandly than ever to a mirror. Every gesture went off the bat
according to the blueprint. I cried on page fourteen! I never knew
it was in me. But I certainly got it all out that day!
Then I did another fine thing, I sat down. I wish now I had done
that earlier. I wish now I had sat down before I got up. I was the
last man out of the church--and I hurried. But they beat me
out--all nine of them. When I went out the door, the old sexton
said as he jiggled the key in the door to hurry me, "Don't feel
bad, bub, I've heerd worse than that. You're all right, bub, but
you don't know nothin' yet."
I cried all the way to town. If he had plunged a dagger into me he
would not have hurt me so much. It has taken some years to learn
that the old man was right. I had wonderful truth in that sermon.
No sermon ever had greater truth, but I had not lived it. The old
man meant I did not know my own sermon.
So, children, when you prepare your commencement oration, write
about what you know best, what you have lived. If you know more
about peeling potatoes than about anything else, write about
"Peeling Potatoes," and you are most likely to hear the applause
peal from that part of your audience unrelated to you.
Out of every thousand books published, perhaps nine hundred of them
do not sell enough to pay the cost of printing them. As you study
the books that do live, you note that they are the books that have
been lived. Perhaps the books that fail have just as much of truth
in them and they may even be better written, yet they lack the
vital impulse. They come out of the author's head. The books that
live must come out of his heart. They are his own life. They come
surging and pulsating from the book of his experience.
The best part of our schooling comes not from the books, but from
the men behind the books.
We study agriculture from books. That does not make us an
agriculturist. We must take a hoe and go out and agricult. That is
the knowing in the doing.
You Must Live Your Song
"There was never a picture painted,
There was never a poem sung,
But the soul of the artist fainted,
And the poet's heart was wrung."
So many young people think because they have a good voice and they have
cultivated it, they are singers. All this cultivation and irritation
and irrigation and gargling of the throat are merely symptoms of
a singer--merely neckties. Singers look better with neckties.
They think the song comes from the diaphragm. But it comes from the
heart, chaperoned by the diaphragm. You cannot sing a song you have
Jessie was singing the other day at a chautauqua. She has a
beautiful voice, and she has been away to "Ber-leen" to have it
attended to. She sang that afternoon in the tent, "The Last Rose of
Summer." She sang it with every note so well placed, with the
sweetest little trills and tendrils, with the smile exactly like
her teacher had taught her. Jessie exhibited all the machinery and
trimmings for the song, but she had no steam, no song. She sang the
notes. She might as well have sung, "Pop, Goes the Weasel."
The audience politely endured Jessie. That night a woman sang in
the same tent "The Last Rose of Summer." She had never been to
Berlin, but she had lived that song. She didn't dress the notes
half so beautifully as Jessie did, but she sang it with the
tremendous feeling it demands. The audience went wild. It was a
case of Gussie and Bill Whackem.
All this was gall and wormwood to Jessie. "Child," I said to her,
"this is the best singing lesson you have ever had. Your study is
all right and you have a better voice than that woman, but you
cannot sing "The Last Rose of Summer" yet, for you do not know very
much about the first rose of summer. And really, I hope you'll
never know the ache and disappointment you must know before you can
sing that song, for it is the sob of a broken-hearted woman. Learn
to sing the songs you have lived."
Why do singers try to execute songs beyond the horizon of their
lives? That is why they "execute" them.
The Success of a Song-Writer
The guest of honor at a dinner in a Chicago club was a woman who is
one of the widely known song-writers of this land. As I had the
good fortune to be sitting at table with her I wanted to ask her,
"How did you get your songs known? How did you know what kind of
songs the people want to sing?"
But in the hour she talked with her friends around the table I
found the answer to every question. "Isn't it good to be here?
Isn't it great to have friends and a fine home and money?" she
said. "I have had such a struggle in my life. I have lived on one
meal a day and didn't know where the next meal was coming from. I
know what it is to be left alone in the world upon my own
resources. I have had years of struggle. I have been sick and
discouraged and down and out. It was in my little back-room, the
only home I had, that I began to write songs. I wrote them for my
own relief. I was writing my own life, just what was in my own
heart and what the struggles were teaching me. No one is more
surprised and grateful that the world seems to love my songs and
asks for more of them."
The woman was Carrie Jacobs-Bond, who wrote "The Perfect Day,"
"Just a Wearyin' for You," "His Lullaby" and many more of those
simple little songs so full of the pathos and philosophy of life
that they tug at your heart and moisten your eyes.
Anybody could write those songs--just a few simple words and notes.
No. Books of theory and harmony and expression only teach us how to
write the words and where to place the notes. These are not the
song, but only the skeleton into which our own life must breathe
the life of the song.
The woman who sat there clad in black, with her sweet, expressive
face crowned with silvery hair, had learned to write her songs in
the University of Hard Knocks. She here became the song philosopher
she is today. Her defeats were her victories. If Carrie Jacobs-Bond
had never struggled with discouragement, sickness, poverty and
loneliness, she never would have been able to write the songs that
appeal to the multitudes who have the same battles.
The popular song is the song that best voices what is in the
popular heart. And while we have a continual inundation of popular
songs that are trashy and voice the tawdriest human impulses, yet
it is a tribute to the good elements in humanity that the
wholesome, uplifting sentiments in Carrie Jacobs-Bond's songs
continue to hold their popularity.
Theory and Practice
My friends, I am not arguing that you and I must drink the dregs of
defeat, or that our lives must fill up with poverty or sorrow, or
become wrecks. But I am insisting upon what I see written all
around me in the affairs of everyday life, that none of us will
ever know real success in any line of human endeavor until that
success flows from the fullness of our experience just as the songs
came from the life of Carrie Jacobs-Bond.
The world is full of theorists, dreamers, uplifters, reformers, who
have worthy visions but are not able to translate them into
practical realities. They go around with their heads in the clouds,
looking upward, and half the time their feet are in the flower-beds
or trampling upon their fellow men they dream of helping. Their
ideas must be forged into usefulness available for this day upon
the anvil of experience.
Many of the most brilliant theorists have been the greatest
failures in practice.
There are a thousand who can tell you what is the matter with
things to one person who can give you a practical way to fix them.
I used to have respect amounting to reverence for great readers and
book men. I used to know a man who could tell in what book almost
anything you could think of was discussed, and perhaps the page. He
was a walking library index. I thought him a most wonderful man.
Indeed, in my childhood I thought he was the greatest man in the
He was a remarkable man--a great reader and with a memory that
retained it all. That man could recite chapters and volumes.
He could give you almost any date. He could finish almost any quotation.
His conversation was largely made up of classical quotations.
But he was one of the most helpless men I have ever seen in
practical life. He seemed to be unable to think and reason for
himself. He could quote a page of John Locke, but somehow the page
didn't supply the one sentence needed for the occasion. The man was
a misfit on earth. He was liable to put the gravy in his coffee
and the gasoline in the fire. He seemed never to have digested any
of the things in his memory. Since I have grown up I always think
of that man as an intellectual cold storage plant.
The greatest book is the textbook of the University of Hard Knocks,
the Book of Human Experience the "sermons in stones" and the "books
in running brooks." Most fortunate is he who has learned to read
understandingly from it.
Note the sweeping, positive statements of the young person.
Note the cautious, specific statements of the person who has lived
long in this world.
Our education is our progress from the sweeping, positive,
wholesale statements we have not proved, to the cautious, specific
statements we have proved.
Tuning the Strings of Life
Many audiences are gathered into this one audience. Each person
here is a different audience, reading a different page in the Book
of Human Experience. Each has a different fight to make and a
different burden to carry. Each one of us has more trouble than
I know there are chapters of heroism in the lives of you older
ones. You have cried yourselves to sleep, some of you, and walked
the floor when you could not sleep. You have learned that "beyond
the Alps lieth Italy."
A good many of you were bumped today or yesterday, or maybe years
ago, and the wound has not healed. You think it never will heal.
You came here thinking that perhaps you would forget your trouble
for a little while. I know there are people in this audience in pain.
Never do this many gather but what there are some with aching hearts.
And you young people here with lives like June mornings, are not
much interested in this lecture. You are polite and attentive
because this is a polite and attentive neighborhood. But down in
your hearts you are asking, "What is this all about? What is that
man talking about? I haven't had these things and I'm not going to
have them, either!"
Maybe some of you are naturally bright!
You are going to be bumped. You are going to cry yourselves to
sleep. You are going to walk the floor when you cannot sleep. Some
of you are going to know the keen sorrow of having the one you
trust most betray you. Maybe, betray you with a kiss. You will go
through your Gethsemane. You will see your dearest plans wrecked.
You will see all that seems to make life livable lost out of your
horizon. You will say, "God, let me die. I have nothing more
to live for."
For all lives have about the same elements. Your life is going to
be about like other lives.
And you are going to learn the wonderful lesson thru the years, the
bumps and the tears, that all these things somehow are necessary to
promote our education.
These bumps and hard knocks do not break the fiddle--they turn the pegs.
These bumps and tragedies and Waterloos draw the strings of the
soul tighter and tighter, nearer and nearer to God's great concert
pitch, where the discords fade from our lives and where the music
divine and harmonies celestial come from the same old strings that
had been sending forth the noise and discord.
Thus we know that our education is progressing, as the evil and
unworthy go out of our lives and as peace, harmony, happiness, love
and understanding come into our lives.
That is getting in tune.
That is growing up.
Memories of the Price We Pay
WHAT a price we pay for what we know! I laugh as I look
backward--and weep and rejoice.
I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, altho it is quite
evident that I could have handled a pretty good-sized spoon. But
father being a country preacher, we had tin spoons. We never had to
tie a red string around our spoons when we loaned them for the
ladies' aid society oyster supper. We always got our spoons back.
Nobody ever traded with us by mistake.
Do you remember the first money you ever earned? I do. I walked
several miles into the country those old reaper days and gathered
sheaves. That night I was proud when that farmer patted me on the
head and said, "You are the best boy to work, I ever saw." Then the
cheerful old miser put a nickel in my blistered hand. That nickel
looked bigger than any money I have since handled.
That "Last Day of School"
Yet I was years learning it is much easier to make money than to
handle it, hence the tale that follows.
I was sixteen years old and a school teacher. Sweet sixteen--which
means green sixteen. But remember again, only green things grow.
There is hope for green things. I was so tall and awkward then--I
haven't changed much since. I kept still about my age. I was
several dollars the lowest bidder. They said out that way, "Anybody
can teach kids." That is why I was a teacher.
I had never studied pedagogy, but I had whittled out three rules
that I thought would make it go. My first rule was, Make 'em study.
My second, Make, em recite. That is, fill 'em up and then empty 'em.
My third and most important rule was, Get your money!
I walked thirteen miles a day, six and a half miles each way, most of
the time, to save money. I think I had all teaching methods in use.
With the small fry I used a small paddle to win their confidence and
arouse their enthusiasm for an education. With the pupils larger and
more muscular than their teacher I used love and moral suasion.
We ended the school with an "exhibition." Did you ever attend the
old back-country "last day of school exhibition"? The people that
day came from all over the township. They were so glad our school
was closing they all turned out to make it a success. They brought
great baskets of provender and we had a feast. We covered the
school desks with boards, and then covered the boards with piles of
fried chicken, doughnuts and forty kinds of pie.
Then we had a "doings." Everybody did a stunt. We executed a lot of
literature that day. Execute is the word that tells what happened
to literature in District No. 1, Jackson Township, that day. I can
shut my eyes and see it yet. I can see my pupils coming forward to
speak their "pieces." I hardly knew them and they hardly knew me,
for we were "dressed up." Many a head showed father had mowed it
with the sheepshears. Mother had been busy with the wash-rag--clear
back of the ears! And into them! So many of them wore collars that
stuck out all stiff like they had pushed their heads on thru their
big straw hats.
I can see them speaking their "pieces." I can see "The Soldier of
the Legion lay dying in Algiers." We had him die again that day,
and he had a lingering end as we executed him. I can see "The boy
stood on the burning deck, whence all but he had fled." I can see
"Mary's little lamb" come slipping over the stage. I see the
tow-headed patriot in "Give me liberty or give me death." I feel
now that if Patrick Henry had been present, he would have said,
"Give me death."
There came a breathless hush as "teacher" came forward as the last
act on the bill to say farewell. It was customary to cry. I wanted
to yell. Tomorrow I would get my money! I had a speech I had been
saying over and over until it would say itself. But somehow when I
got up before that "last day of school" audience and opened my
mouth, it was a great opening, but nothing came out. It came out of
my eyes. Tears rolled down my cheeks until I could hear them
spatter on my six-dollar suit.
And my pupils wept as their dear teacher said farewell. Parents
wept. It was a teary time. I only said, "Weep not for me, dear
friends. I am going away, but I am coming back." I thought to cheer
them up, but they wept the more.
Next day I drew my money. I had it all in one joyous wad--$240. I
was going home with head high and aircastles even higher. But I
never got home with the money. Talk about the fool and his money
and you get very personal.
For on the way home I met Deacon K, and he borrowed it all. Deacon K
was "such a good man" and a "pillar of the church." I used to wonder,
tho, why he didn't take a pillow to church. I took his note for $240,
"due at corncutting," as we termed that annual fall-time paying up
season. I really thought a note was not necessary, such was my
confidence in the deacon.
For years I kept a faded, tear-spattered, yellow note for $240,
"due at corncutting," as a souvenir of my first schoolteaching.
Deacon K has gone from earth. He has gone to his eternal reward. I
scarcely know whether to look up or down as I say that. He never
left any forwarding address.
I was paid thousands in experience for that first schoolteaching,
but I paid all the money I got from it--two hundred and forty
thirteen-mile-a-day dollars to learn one thing I could not learn
from the books, that it takes less wisdom to make money, than it
does to intelligently handle it afterwards. Incidentally I learned
it may be safer to do business with a first-class sinner than with
a second-class saint.
Which is no slap at the church, but at its worst enemies, the foes
of its own household.
Calling the Class-Roll
A lyceum bureau once sent me back to my home town to lecture. I
imagine most lecturers have a hard time lecturing in the home town.
Their schoolmates and playmates are apt to be down there in the
front rows with their families, and maybe all the old scores have
not yet been settled. The boy he fought with may be down there.
Perhaps the girl who gave him the "mitten" is there.
And he has gotten his lecture out of that home town. The heroes and
villains live there within striking distance. Perhaps they have
come to hear him. "Is not this the carpenter's son?" Perhaps this
is why some lecturers and authors are not so popular in the home
town until several generations pass.
I went back to the same hall to speak, and stood upon the same platform
where twenty-one years before I had stood to deliver my graduating oration,
when in impassioned and well modulated tones I had exclaimed,
"Greece is gone and Rome is no more, but fe-e-e-e-ear not,
for I will sa-a-a-a-ave you!" or words to that effect.
Then I went back to the little hotel and sat up alone in my room
half the night living it over. Time was when I thought anybody who
could live in that hotel was a superior order of being. But the
time had come when I knew the person who could go on living in any
hotel has a superior order of vitality.
I held thanksgiving services that night. I could see better. I had
a picture of the school in that town that had been taken twenty-one
years before, just before commencement. I had not seen the picture
these twenty-one years, for I could not then afford to buy one. The
price was a quarter.
I got a truer perspective of life that night. Did you ever sit
alone with a picture of your classmates taken twenty-one years
before? It is a memorable experience.
A class of brilliant and gifted young people went out to take
charge of the world. They were so glad the world had waited so long
on them. They were so willing to take charge of the world. They
were going to be presidents and senators and authors and
authoresses and scientists and scientist-esses and geniuses and
genius-esses and things like that.
There was one boy in the class who was not naturally bright. It was
not the one you may be thinking of! No, it was Jim Lambert. He had
no brilliant career in view. He was dull and seemed to lack
intellect. He was "conditioned" into the senior class. We all felt
a little sorry for Jim.
As commencement day approached, the committee of the class
appointed for that purpose took Jim back of the schoolhouse and
broke the news to him that they were going to let him graduate, but
they were not going to let him speak, because he couldn't make a
speech that would do credit to such a brilliant class. They hid Jim
on the stage back of the oleander commencement night.
Shake the barrel!
The girl who was to become the authoress became the helloess in the
home telephone exchange, and had become absolutely indispensable to
the community. The girl who was to become the poetess became the
goddess at the general delivery window and superintendent of the
stamp-licking department of the home postoffice. The boy who was
going to Confess was raising the best corn in the county, and his
wife was speaker of the house.
Most of them were doing very well even Jim Lambert. Jim had become
the head of one of the big manufacturing plants of the South, with
a lot of men working for him. The committee that took him out
behind the schoolhouse to inform him he could not speak at
commencement, would now have to wait in line before a frosted door
marked, "Mr. Lambert, Private." They would have to send up their
cards, and the watchdog who guards the door would tell them, "Cut
it short, he's busy!" before they could break any news to him
They hung a picture of Mr. Lambert in the high school at the last
alumni meeting. They hung it on the wall near where the oleander
stood that night.
Dull boy or girl--you with your eyes tear-dimmed sometimes because
you do not seem to learn like some in your classes can you not get
a bit of cheer from the story of Jim?
Hours pass, and still as I sat in that hotel room I was lost in
that school picture and the twenty-one years. There were fifty-four
young people in that picture. They had been shaken these years in
the barrel, and now as I called the roll on them, most of them that
I expected to go up had shaken down and some that I expected to
stay down had shaken up.
Out of that fifty-four, one had gone to a pulpit, one had gone to
Congress and one had gone to the penitentiary. Some had gone to
brilliant success and some had gone down to sad failure. Some had
found happiness and some had found unhappiness. It seemed as tho
almost every note on the keyboard of human possibility had been
struck by the one school of fifty-four.
When that picture was taken the oldest was not more than eighteen,
yet most of them seemed already to have decided their destinies.
The twenty-one years that followed had not changed their courses.
The only changes had come where God had come into a life to uplift
it, or where Mammon had entered to pull it down. And I saw better
that the foolish dreams of success faded before the natural
unfolding of talents, which is the real success. I saw better that
"the boy is father to the man."
The boy who skimmed over his work in school was skimming over his
work as a man. The boy who went to the bottom of things in school
was going to the bottom of things in manhood. Which had helped him
to go to the top of things!
Jim Lambert had merely followed the call of talents unseen in him
twenty-one years before.
The lazy boy became a "tired" man. The industrious boy became an
industrious man. The sporty boy became a sporty man. The
domineering egotist boy became the domineering egotist man.
The boy who traded knives with me and beat me--how I used to envy
him! Why was it he could always get the better of me? Well, he went
on trading knives and getting the better of people. Now, twenty-one
years afterwards, he was doing time in the state penitentiary for
forgery. He was now called a bad man, when twenty-one years ago
when he did the same things on a smaller scale they called him
smart and bright.
The "perfectly lovely" boy who didn't mix with the other boys, who
didn't whisper, who never got into trouble, who always had his hair
combed, and said, "If you please," used to hurt me. He was the
teacher's model boy. All the mothers of the community used to say
to their own reprobate offspring, "Why can't you be like Harry?
He'll be President of the United States some day, and you'll be in
jail." But Model Harry sat around all his life being a model. I
believe Mr. Webster defines a model as a small imitation of the
real thing. Harry certainly was a successful model. He became a
seedy, sleepy, helpless relic at forty. He was "perfectly lovely"
because he hadn't the energy to be anything else. It was the boys
who had the hustle and the energy, who occasionally needed
bumping--and who got it--who really grew.
I have said little about the girls of the school. Fact was, at that
age I didn't pay much attention to them. I regarded them as in the
way. But I naturally thought of Clarice, our social pet of the
class--our real pretty girl who won the vase in the home paper
beauty contest. Clarice went right on remaining in the social
spotlight, primping and flirting. She outshone all the rest. But it
seemed like she was all out-shine and no in-shine. She mistook
popularity for success. The boys voted for her, but did not marry
her. Most of the girls who shone with less social luster became the
happy homemakers of the community.
But as I looked into the face of Jim Lambert in the picture, my
heart warmed at the sight of another great success--a sweet-faced
irish lass who became an "old maid." She had worked day by day all
these years to support a home and care for her family. She had kept
her grace and sweetness thru it all, and the influence of her
white, loving life radiated far.
The Boy I Had Envied
Frank was the boy I had envied. He had everything--a fine home,
a loving father, plenty of money, opportunity and a great career
awaiting him. And he was bright and lovable and talented.
Everybody said Frank would make his mark in the world and make
the town proud of him.
I was the janitor of the schoolhouse. Some of my classmates will
never know how their thoughtless jeers and jokes wounded the
sensitive, shabby boy who swept the floors, built the fires and
carried in the coal. After commencement my career seemed to end and
the careers of Frank and the rest of them seemed to begin. They
were going off to college and going to do so many wonderful things.
But the week after commencement I had to go into a printing office,
roll up my sleeves and go to work in the "devil's corner" to earn
my daily bread. Seemed like it took so much bread!
Many a time as I plugged at the "case" I would think of Frank and wonder
why some people had all the good things and I had all the hard things.
How easy it is to see as you look backward. But how hard it is to
see when you look forward.
Twenty-one years afterward as I got off the train in the home town,
I asked, "Where is he?" We went out to the cemetery, where I stood
at a grave and read on the headstone, "Frank."
I had the story of a tragedy--the tragedy of modern unpreparedness.
It was the story of the boy who had every opportunity, but who had
all the struggle taken out of his life. He never followed his
career, never developed any strength. He disappointed hopes, spent
a fortune, broke his father's heart, shocked the community, and
finally ended his wasted life with a bullet fired by his own hand.
Why Ben Hur Won
It revived the memory of the story of Ben Hur.
Do you remember it? The Jewish boy is torn from his home in
disgrace. He is haled into court and tried for a crime he never
committed. Ben Hur did not get a fair trial. Nobody can get a fair
trial at the hands of this world. That is why the great Judge has
said, judge not, for you have not the full evidence in the case. I
alone have that.
Then they condemn him. They lead him away to the galleys. They
chain him to the bench and to the oar. There follow the days and
long years when he pulls on the oar under the lash. Day after day
he pulls on the oar. Day after day he writhes under the sting of
the lash. Years of the cruel injustice pass. Ben Hur is the
helpless victim of a mocking fate.
That seems to be your life and my life. In the kitchen or the
office, or wherever we work we seem so often like slaves bound to
the oar and pulling under the sting of the lash of necessity. Life
seems one futureless round of drudgery. We wonder why. We often
look across the street and see somebody who lives a happier life.
That one is chained to no oar. See what a fine time they all have.
Why must we pull on the oar?
How blind we are! We can only see our own oar. We cannot see that
they, too, pull on the oar and feel the lash. Most likely they are
looking back at us and envying us. For while we envy others, others
are envying us.
But look at the chariot race in Antioch. See the thousands in the
circus. See Messala, the haughty Roman, and see! Ben Hur from the
galleys in the other chariot pitted against him. Down the course
dash these twin thunderbolts. The thousands hold their breath. "Who
will win?" "The man with the stronger forearms," they whisper.
There comes the crucial moment in the race. See the man with the
stronger forearms. They are bands of steel that swell in the
forearms of Ben Hur. They swing those flying Arabians into the
inner ring. Ben Hur wins the race! Where got the Jew those huge
forearms? From the galleys!
Had Ben Hur never pulled on the oar, he never could have won the
Sooner or later you and I are to learn that Providence makes no
mistakes in the bookkeeping. As we pull on the oar, so often lashed
by grim necessity, every honest effort is laid up at compound
interest in the bank account of strength. Sooner or later the time
comes when we need every ounce. Sooner or later our chariot race is
on--when we win the victory, strike the deciding blow, stand while
those around us fall--and it is won with the forearms earned in the
galleys of life by pulling on the oar.
That is why I thanked God as I stood at the grave of my classmate.
I thanked God for parents who believed in the gospel of struggle,
and for the circumstances that compelled it.
I am not an example of success.
But I am a very grateful pupil in the first reader class of The
University of Hard Knocks.
Go On South!
The Book in the Running Brook
THERE is a little silvery sheet of water in Minnesota called Lake Itasca.
There is a place where a little stream leaps out from the lake.
"Ole!" you will exclaim, "the lake is leaking. What is the name of
this little creek?"
"Creek! It bane no creek. It bane Mississippi river."
So even the Father of Waters has to begin as a creek. We are at the
cradle where the baby river leaps forth. We all start about alike.
It wabbles around thru the woods of Minnesota. It doesn't know
where it is going, but it is "on the way."
It keeps wabbling around, never giving up and quitting, and it gets
to the place where all of us get sooner or later. The place where
Paul came on the road to Damascus. The place of the "heavenly vision."
It is the place where gravity says, "Little Mississippi, do you
want to grow? Then you will have to go south."
The little Mississippi starts south. He says to the people,
"Goodbye, folks, I am going south." The folks at Itascaville say,
"Why, Mississippi, you are foolish. You hain't got water enough to
get out of the county." That is a fact, but he is not trying to get
out of the county. The Mississippi is only trying to go south.
The Mississippi knows nothing about the Gulf of Mexico. He does not
know that he has to go hundreds of miles south. He is only trying
to go south. He has not much water, but he does not wait for a
relative to die and bequeath him some water. That is a beautiful
thought! He has water enough to start south, and he does that.
He goes a foot south, then another foot south. He goes a mile
south. He picks up a little stream and he has some more water. He
goes on south. He picks up another stream and grows some more. Day
by day he picks up streamlets, brooklets, rivulets. Business is
picking up! He grows as he flows. Poetry!
My friends, here is one of the best pictures I can find in nature
of what it seems to me our lives should be. I hear a great many
orations, especially in high school commencements, entitled, "The
Value of a Goal in Life." But the direction is vastly more
important than the goal. Find the way your life should go, and then
go and keep on going and you'll reach a thousand goals.
We do not have to figure out how far we have to go, nor how many
supplies we will need along the way. All we have to do is to start
and we will find the resources all along the way. We will grow as
we flow. All of us can start! And then go on south!
Success is not tomorrow or next year. Success is now. Success is
not at the end of the journey, for there is no end. Success is
every day in flowing and growing. The Mississippi is a success in
Minnesota as well as on south.
You and I sooner or later hear the call, "Go on south." If we
haven't heard it, let us keep our ear to the receiver and live a
more natural life, so that we can hear the call. We are all called.
It is a divine call--the call of our unfolding talents to be used.
Remember, the Mississippi goes south. If he had gone any other
direction he would never have been heard of.
Three wonderful things develop as the Mississippi goes on south.
1. He keeps on going on south and growing greater.
2. He overcomes his obstacles and develops his power.
3. He blesses the valley, but the valley does not bless him.
Go On South and Grow Greater
You never meet the Mississippi after he starts south, but what he
is going on south and growing greater. You never meet him but what
he says, "Excuse me, but I must go on south."
The Mississippi gets to St. Paul and Minneapolis. He is a great
river now--the most successful river in the state. But he does not
retire upon his laurels. He goes on south and grows greater. He
goes on south to St. Louis. He is a wonderful river now. But he
does not stop. He goes on south and grows greater.
Everywhere you meet him he is going on south and growing greater.
Do you know why the Mississippi goes on south? To continue to be
the Mississippi. If he should stop and stagnate, he would not be
the Mississippi, river. he would become a stagnant, poisonous pond.
As long as people keep on going south, they keep on living. When
they stop and stagnate, they die.
That is why I am making it the slogan of my life--GO ON SOUTH AND
GROW GREATER! I hope I can make you remember that and say it over
each day. I wish I could write it over the pulpits, over the
schoolrooms, over the business houses and homes--GO ON SOUTH AND
GROW GREATER. For this is life, and there is no other. This is
education--and religion. And the only business of life.
You and I start well. We go on south a little ways, and then we
retire. Even young people as they start south and make some little
knee-pants achievement, some kindergarten touchdown, succumb to
their press notices. Their friends crowd around them to congratulate
them. "I must congratulate you upon your success. You have arrived."
So many of those young goslings believe that. They quit and get
canned. They think they have gotten to the Gulf of Mexico when they
have not gotten out of the woods of Minnesota. Go on south!
We can protect ourselves fairly well from our enemies, but heaven
deliver us from our fool friends.
Success is so hard to endure. We can endure ten defeats better than
one victory. Success goes to the head and defeat goes to "de feet."
It makes them work harder.
The Plague of Incompetents
Civilization is mostly a conspiracy to keep us from going very far south.
The one who keeps on going south defies custom and becomes unorthodox.
But contentment with present achievement is the damnation of the race.
The mass of the human family never go on south far enough to
become good servants, workmen or artists. The young people get a
smattering and squeeze into the bottom position and never go on
south to efficiency and promotion. They wonder why their genius is
not recognized. They do not make it visible.
Nine out of ten stenographers who apply for positions can write a
few shorthand characters and irritate a typewriter keyboard. They
think that is being a stenographer, when it is merely a symptom of
a stenographer. They mangle the language, grammar, spelling,
capitalization and punctuation. Their eyes are on the clock, their
minds on the movies.
Nine out of ten workmen cannot be trusted to do what they advertise
to do, because they have never gone south far enough to become
efficient. Many a professional man is in the same class.
Half of our life is spent in getting competents to repair the
botchwork of incompetents.
No matter how well equipped you are, you are never safe in your job
if you are contented to do today just what you did yesterday.
Contented to think today what you thought yesterday.
You must go on south to be safe.
I used to know a violinist who would say, "If I were not a genius,
I could not play so well with such little practice." The poor
fellow did not know how poor a fiddler he really was. Well did
Strickland Gillilan, America's great poet-humorist, say, "Egotism
is the opiate that Nature administers to deaden the pains of mediocrity.
This Is Our Best Day
Just because our hair gets frosty or begins to rub off in spots, we
are so prone to say, "I am aging rapidly." It pays to advertise. We
always get results. See the one shrivel who goes around
front-paging his age. Age is not years; age is grunts.
We say, "I've seen my best days." And the undertaker goes and
greases his buggy. He believes in "preparedness."
Go on south! We have not seen our best days. This is the best day
so far, and tomorrow is going to be better on south.
We are only children in God's great kindergarten, playing with our
A-B-C's. I do not utter that as a bit of sentiment, but as the
great fundamental of our life. I hope the oldest in years sees that
best. I hope he says, "I am just beginning. Just beginning to
understand. Just beginning to know about life."
We are not going on south to old age, we are going on south to
eternal youth. It is the one who stops who "ages rapidly." Each day
brings us a larger vision. Infinity, Eternity, Omnipotence,
Omniscience are all on south.
We have left nothing behind but the husks. I would not trade this
moment for all the years before it. I have their footings at
compound interest! They are dead. This is life.
Birthdays and Headmarks
Yesterday I had a birthday. I looked in the glass and communed with
my features. I saw some gray hairs coming. Hurrah!
You know what gray hairs are? Did you ever get a headmark in school?
Gray hairs are silver headmarks in our education as we go on south.
You children cheer up. Your black hair and auburn hair and the other
first reader hair will pass and you'll get promoted as you go on south.
Don't worry about gray hair or baldness. Only worry about the location
of your gray hair or baldness. If they get on the inside of the head,
worry. Do you know why corporations sometimes say they do not want
to employ gray-headed men? They have found that so many of them
have quit going on south and have gotten gray on the inside--or bald.
These same corporations send out Pinkertons and pay any price for
gray-headed men--gray on the outside and green on the inside. They
are the most valuable, for they have the vision and wisdom of many
years and the enthusiasm and "pep" and courage of youth.
The preacher, the teacher--everyone who gets put on the retired
list, retires himself. He quits going on south.
The most wonderful person in the world is the one who has lived
years and years on earth and has perhaps gotten gray on the
outside, but has kept young and fresh on the inside. Put that
person in the pulpit, in the schoolroom, in the office, behind the
ticket-window or on the bench--or under the hod--and you find the
whole world going to that person for direction, advice, vision,
help, sympathy, love.
I am happy today as I look back over my life. I have been trying to
lecture a good while. I am almost ashamed to tell you how long, for
I ought to know more about it by this time. But when anybody says,
"I heard you lecture twenty years ago over at----" I stop him.
"Please don't throw it up to me now. I am just as ashamed of it as
you are. I am trying to do better now."
O, I want to forget all the past, save its lessons. I am just
beginning to live. If anybody wants to be my best friend, let him
come to me and tell me how to improve--what to do and what not to
do. Tell me how to give a better lecture.
Years ago a bureau representative who booked me told me my lectures
were good enough. I told him I wanted to get better lectures, for
I was so dissatisfied with what little I knew. He told me I could
never get any better. I had reached my limit. Those lectures were
the "limit." I shiver as I think what I was saying then. I want to
go on south shivering about yesterday. These years I have noticed
the people on the platform who were contented with their offerings,
were not trying to improve them, and were lost in admiration of
what they were doing, did not stay long on the platform. I have
watched them come and go, come and go. I have heard their fierce
invectives against the bureaus and ungrateful audiences that were
"prejudiced" against them.
Birthdays are not annual affairs. Birthdays are the days when we
have a new birth. The days when we go on south to larger visions.
I wish I could have a birthday every minute!
Some people seem to string out to near a hundred years with mighty
few birthdays. Some people spin up to Methuselahs in a few years.
From what I can learn of Methuselah, he never grew past copper-toed
boots. He just hibernated and "chawed on."
The more birthdays we have, the nearer we approach eternal youth!
Bernhardt, Davis and Edison
The spectacle of Sarah Bernhardt, past seventy, thrilling and
gripping audiences with the fire and brilliancy of youth, is
inspiring. No obstacle can daunt her. Losing a leg does not end her
acting, for she remains the "Divine Sarah" with no crippling of her
work. She looks younger than many women of half her years. "The
years are nothing to me."
Senator Henry Gassaway Davis, West Virginia's Grand Old Man, at
ninety-two was working as hard and hopefully as any man of the
multitudes in his employ. He was an ardent Odd Fellow, and one day
at ninety-two--just a short time before his passing--he went out to
the Odd Fellows' Home near Elkins, where he lived. On the porch of
the home was a row of old men inmates. The senator shook hands with
these men and one by one they rose from the bench to return his
The last man on the bench did not rise. He helplessly looked up at
the senator and said, "Senator, you'll have to excuse me from
getting up. I'm too old. When you get as old as I am, you'll not
get up, either."
"That's all right. But, my man, how old are you?"
"Senator, I'm old in body and old in spirit. I'm past sixty."
"My boy," laughed Senator Davis, "I was an Odd Fellow before
you were born."
The senator at ninety-two was younger than the man "past sixty,"
because he was going on south.
When I was a little boy I saw them bring the first phonograph that
Mr. Edison invented into the meeting at Lakeside, Ohio. The people
cheered when they heard it talk.
You would laugh at it today. It had a tinfoil cylinder, it
screeched and stuttered. You would not have it in your barn today
to play to your ford!
But the people said, "Mr. Edison has succeeded." There was one man
who did not believe that Mr. Edison had succeeded. His name was
Thomas Alva Edison. He had gotten to St. Paul, and he went on
south. A million people would have stopped there and said, "I have
arrived." They would have put in their time litigating for their
rights with other people who would have gone on south with the
Mr. Edison has said that his genius is mainly his ability to keep
on south. A young lady succeeded in getting into his laboratory the
other day, and she wrote me that the great inventor showed her one
invention. "I made over seven thousand experiments and failed
before I hit upon that."
"Why make so many experiments?"
"I know more than seven thousand ways now that won't work."
I doubt if there are ten men in America who could go on south in
the face of seven thousand failures. Today he brings forth a
diamond-pointed phonograph. I am sure if we could bring Mr. Edison
to this platform and ask him, "Have you succeeded?" he would say
what he has said to reporters and what he said to the young lady,
"I have not succeeded. I am succeeding. All I have done only shows
me how much there is yet to do."
That is success supreme. Not "succeeded" but "succeeding."
What a difference between "ed" and "ing"! The difference between
death and life. Are you "ed-ing" or "ing-ing"?
Moses Begins at Eighty
Moses, the great Hebrew law-giver, was eighty years old before he
started south. It took him eighty years to get ready. Moses did not
even get on the back page of the Egyptian newspapers till he was
eighty. He went on south into the extra editions after that!
If Moses had retired at seventy-nine, we'd never have heard of him.
If Moses had retired to a checkerboard in the grocery store or to
pitching horseshoes up the alley and talking about "ther winter of
fifty-four," he would have become the seventeenth mummy on the
thirty-ninth row in the green pickle-jar!
Imagine Moses living today amidst the din of the high school
orations on "The Age of the Young Man" and the Ostler idea that you
are going down hill at fifty. Imagine Moses living on "borrowed
time" when he becomes the leader of the Israelite host.
I would see his scandalized friends gather around him. "Moses! Moses!
what is this we hear? You going to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land?
Why, Moses, you are an old man. Why don't you act like an old man?
You are liable to drop off any minute. Here is a pair of slippers.
And keep out of the night air. It is so hard on old folks."
I think I would hear Moses say, "No, no, I am just beginning to see
what to do. Watch things happen from now on. Children of
Israel, forward, march!"
I see Moses at eighty starting for the Wilderness so fast Aaron
can hardly keep up. Moses is eighty-five and busier and more
enthusiastic than ever. The people say, "Isn't Moses dead?" "No."
"Well, he ought to be dead, for he is old enough."
They appoint a committee to bury Moses. You cannot do anything in
America without a committee. The committee gets out the invitations
and makes all the arrangements for a gorgeous funeral next
Thursday. They get ready the resolutions of respect--
Then I see the committee waiting on Moses. That is what a committee
does--it "waits" on something or other. And this committee goes up
to General Moses' private office. It is his busy day. They have to
stand in line and wait their turn. When they get up to Moses' desk,
the great prophet says, "Boys, what is it? Cut it short, I'm busy."
The committee begins to weep. "General Moses, you are a very old
man. You are eighty-five years old and full of honors. We are the
committee duly authorized to give you gorgeous burial. The funeral
is to be next Thursday. Kindly die."
I see Moses look over his appointments. "Next Thursday?
Why, boys, every hour is taken next Thursday. I simply cannot
attend my funeral next Thursday."
They cannot bury Moses. He cannot attend. You cannot bury anybody
who is too busy to attend his own funeral! You cannot bury anybody
until he consents. It is bad manners! The committee is so
mortified, for all the invitations are out. It waits.
Moses is eighty-six and the committee 'phones over, "Moses, can you
attend next Thursday?" And Moses says, "No, boys, you'll just have
to hold that funeral until I get this work pushed off so I can
attend it. I haven't even time to think about getting old."
The committee waits. Moses is ninety and rushed more than ever.
He is doing ten men's work and his friends all say he is killing
himself. But he makes the committee wait.
Moses is ninety-five and burning the candle at both ends.
He is a hundred. And the committee dies!
Moses goes right on shouting, "Onward!" He is a hundred and ten. He
is a hundred and twenty. Even then I read, "His eye was not dim,
nor his natural force abated." He had not time to stop and abate.
So God buried him. The committee was dead. O, friends, this is not
irreverence. It is joyful reverence. It is the message to all of
us, Go on south to the greater things, and get so enthused and
absorbed in our going that we'll fool the "committee."
All the multitudes of the Children of Israel died in the Wilderness.
They were afraid to go on south. Only two of them went on south--
Joshua and Caleb. They put the giants out of business.
The Indians once owned America. But they failed to go on south.
So another crop of Americans came into the limelight. If we modern
Americans do not go on south we will join the Indians, the auk
and the dodo.
The "Sob Squad"
I am so sorry for the folks who quit, retire, "get on the shelf" or
live on "borrowed time."
They generally join the "sob squad."
They generally discover the world is "going to the dogs." They cry
on my shoulder, no matter how good clothes I wear.
They tell me nobody uses them right. The person going on south has
not time to look back and see how anybody uses him.
They say nobody loves them. Which is often a fact. Nobody loves the
clock that runs down.
They say, "Only a few more days of trouble, only a few more
tribulations, and I'll be in that bright and happy land." What will
they do with them when they get them there? They would be dill
pickles in the heavenly preserve-jar.
They say, "I wish I were a child again. I was happy when I was a
child and I'm not happy now. Them was the best days of my life
childhood's palmy days."
Wake up! Your clock has run down. Anybody who wants to be a child
again is confessing he has lost his memory. Anybody who can remember
the horrors of childhood could not be hired to live it over again.
If there is anybody who does not have a good time, if there is
anybody who gets shortchanged regularly, it is a child. I am so
sorry for a child. Hurry up and go on south. It is better on south.
Waiting till the "Second Table"
I wish I could forget many of my childhood memories. I remember the
palmy days. And the palm!
I often wonder how I ever lived thru my childhood. I would not take
my chances living it thru again. I am not ungrateful to my parents.
I had advantages. I was born in a parsonage and was reared in the
nurture and admiration of the Lord. I am not just sure I quoted
that correctly, but I know I was reared in a parsonage. About all
I inherited was a Godly example and a large appetite. That was
about all there was to inherit. I cannot remember when I was not
hungry. I used to go around feeling like the Mammoth Cave, never
I never sit down as "company" at a dinner and see some little
children going sadly into the next room to "wait till the second
that my heart does not go out to them. I remember when I did that.
I can only remember about four big meals in a year. That was
"quart'ly meeting day." We always had a big dinner on "quart'ly
meeting day." Elder Berry would stay for dinner. His name was
Berry, but being "presiding elder," we called him Elder Berry.
Elder Berry always stayed for dinner. He was one of the easiest men
to get to stay for dinner I ever saw.
Mother would stay home from "quart'ly meeting" to get the big
dinner ready. She would cook up about all the "brethren" brought in
at the last donation. We had one of those stretchable tables,
and mother would stretch it clear across the room and put on two
table-cloths. She would lap them over in the middle, where the hole was.
I would watch her get the big dinner ready. I would look over the
long table and view the "promised land." I would see her set on the
jelly. We had so much jelly--red jelly, and white jelly, and blue
jelly. I don't just remember if they had blue jelly, but if they
had it we had it on that table. All the jelly that ever "jelled"
was represented. I didn't know we had so much jelly till "quart'ly
meeting" day. I would watch the jelly tremble. Did you ever see
jelly tremble? I used to think it ought to tremble, for Elder Berry
was coming for dinner.
I would see mother put on the tallest pile of mashed potatoes you
ever saw. She would make a hollow in the top and fill it with
butter. I would see the butter melt and run down the sides, and I
would say, "Hurry, mother, it is going to spill!" O, how I wanted
to spill it! I could hardly hold out faithful.
And then Elder Berry would sit down at the table, at the end
nearest the fried chicken. The "company" would sit down. I used to
wonder why we never could have a big dinner but what a lot of
"company" had to come and gobble it up. They would fill the table
and father would sit down in the last seat. There was no place for
me to sit. Father would say, "You go into the next room, my boy,
and wait. There's no room for you at the table."
The hungriest one of that assemblage would have to go in the next
room and hear the big dinner. Did you ever hear a big dinner when
you felt like the Mammoth Cave? I used to think as I would sit in
the next room that heaven would be a place where everybody would
eat at the first table.
I would watch them thru the key-hole. It was going so fast. There
was only one piece of chicken left. It was the neck. O, Lord, spare
the neck! And I would hear them say, "Elder Berry, may we help you
to another piece of the chicken?"
And Elder Berry would take the neck!
Many a time after that, Elder Berry would come into the room where
I was starving. He would say, "Brother Parlette, is this your
boy?" He would come over to the remains of Brother Parlette's boy.
He would often put his hand in benediction upon my head.
My head was not the place that needed the benediction.
He would say, "My boy, I want you to have a good time now." Now!
When all the chicken was gone and he had taken the neck! "My boy,
you are seeing the best days of your life right now as a child."
The dear old liar! I was seeing the worst days of my life. If there
is anybody shortchanged--if there is anybody who doesn't have a
good time, it's a child. Life has been getting better ever since,
and today is the best day of all. Go on south!
It's Better on South
Seeing your best days as a child? No! You are seeing your worst
days. Of course, you can be happy as a child. A boy can be happy
with fuzz on his upper lip, but he'll be happier when his lip feels
more like mine like a piece of sandpaper. There are chapters of
happiness undreamed of in his philosophy.
A child can be full of happiness and only hold a pint. But
afterwhile the same child will hold a quart.
I think I hold a gallon now. And I see people in the audience who
must hold a barrel! Go on south. Of course, I do not mean
circumference. But every year we go south increases our capacity
for joy. Our life is one continual unfolding as we go south.
Afterwhile this old world gets too small for us and we go on south
into a larger one.
So we cannot grow old. Our life never stops. It goes on and on
forever. Anything that does not stop cannot grow old or have age.
Material things will grow old. This stage will grow old and stop.
This hall will grow old and stop. This house we live in will grow
old and stop. This flesh and blood house we live in will grow old
and stop. This lecture even will grow old--and stop! But you and I
will never grow old, for God cannot grow old. You and I will go on
living as long as God lives.
I am not worried today over what I do not know. I used to be
worried. I used to say, "I have not time to answer you now!" But
today it is such a relief to look people in the face and say,
"I do not know."
And I have to say that to many questions, "I do not know." I often
think if people in an audience only knew how little I know, they
would not stay to hear me.
But some day I shall know! I patiently wait for the answer. Every
day brings the answer to something I could not answer yesterday.
It will take an eternity to know an infinity!
What a wonderful happiness to go on south to it!
Overcoming Obstacles Develops Power
As the Mississippi River goes on south he finds obstacles along the
way. You and I find obstacles along our way south. What shall we do?
Go to Keokuk, Iowa, for your answer.
They have built a great concrete obstacle clear across the path of
the river. It is many feet high, and many, many feet long. The
river cannot go on south. Watch him. He rises higher than the
obstacle and sweeps over it on south.
Over the great power dam at Keokuk sweeps the Mississippi. And then
you see the struggle of overcoming the obstacle develops light and
power to vitalize the valley. A hundred towns and cities radiate
the light and power from the struggle. The great city of St. Louis,
many miles away, throbs with the victory.
So that is why they spent the millions to build the obstacle--to
get the light and the power. The light and the power were latent in
the river, but it took the obstacle and the overcoming to develop
it and make it useful.
That is exactly what happens when you and I overcome our obstacles.
We develop our light and power. We are rivers of light and power,
but it is all latent and does no good until we overcome obstacles
as we go on south.
Obstacles are the power stations on our way south!
And where the most obstacles are, there you find the most power to
be developed. So many of us do not understand that. We look
southward and we see the obstacles in the road. "I am so
unfortunate. I could do these great things, but alas! I have so
many obstacles in the way."
Thank God! You are blessed of Providence. They do not waste the
obstacles. The presence of the obstacles means that there is a lot
of light and power in you to be developed. If you see no obstacles,
you are confessing to blindness.
I hear people saying, "I hope the time may speedily come when I
shall have no more obstacles to overcome!" When that time comes,
ring up the hearse, for you will be a "dead one."
Life is going on south, and overcoming the obstacles. Death is
The fact that we are not buried is no proof that we are alive. Go
along the street in almost any town and see the dead ones. There
they are decorating the hitching-racks and festooning the
storeboxes. There they are blocking traffic at the postoffice and
depot. There they are in the hotel warming the chairs and making
the guests stand up. There they are--rows of retired farmers who
have quit work and moved to town to block improvements and die. But
they will never need anything more than burying.
For they are dead from the ears up. They have not thought a new
thought the past month. Sometimes they sit and think, but generally
they just sit. They have not gone south an inch the past year.
Usually the deadest loafer is married to the livest woman. Nature
tries to maintain an equilibrium.
They block the wheels of progress and get in the way of the people
trying to go on south. They say of the people trying to do things.
"Aw, he's always tryin' to run things."
They do not join in to promote the churches and schools and big
brother movements. They growl at the lyceum courses and chautauquas,
because they "take money outa town." They do not take any of their
money "outa town." Ringling and Barnum & Bailey get theirs.
I do not smile as I refer to the dead. I weep. I wish I could
squirt some "pep" into them and start them on south.
But all this lecture has been discussing this, so I hurry on to the
last glimpse of the book in the running brook.
Go on South From Principle
Here we come to the most wonderful and difficult thing in life. It
is the supreme test of character. That is, Why go on south? Not for
blessing nor cursing, not for popularity nor for selfish ends, not
for anything outside, but for the happiness that comes from within.
The Mississippi blesses the valley every day as he goes on south
and overcomes. But the valley does not bless the river in return.
The valley throws its junk back upon the river. The valley pours
its foul, muddy, poisonous streams back upon the Mississippi to
defile him. The Mississippi makes St. Paul and Minneapolis about
all the prosperity they have, gives them power to turn their mills.
But the Twin Cities merely throw their waste back upon their
The Mississippi does not resign. He does not tell a tale of woe. He
does not say, "I am not appreciated. My genius is not understood.
I am not going a step farther south. I am going right back to Lake
Itasca." No, he does not even go to live with his father-in-law.
He says, "Thank you. Every little helps, send it all along." Go a
few miles below the Twin Cities and see how, by some mysterious
alchemy of Nature, the Mississippi has taken over all the poison
and the defilement, he has purified it and clarified it, and has
made it a part of himself. And he is greater and farther south!
He fattens upon bumps. Kick him, and you push him farther south.
"Hand him a lemon," and he makes lemonade.
Civilization conspires to defeat the Mississippi. Chicago's
drainage canal pollutes him. The flat, lazy Platte, three miles
wide and three inches deep; the peevish, destructive Kaw, and all
those streams that unite to form the treacherous, sinful,
irresponsible lower Missouri; the big, muddy Ohio, the Arkansas,
the Red, the black and the blue floods--all these pour into the
Day by day the Father of Waters goes on south, taking them over and
purifying them and making them a part of himself. Nothing can
discourage, divert nor defile him. No matter how poisonous he
becomes, he goes a few miles on south and he is all pure again.
Wonderful the book in the running brook! We let our life stream
become poisoned by bitter memories and bitter regrets. We carry
along such a heart full of the injuries that other people have done
us, that sometimes we are bank to bank full of poison and a menace
to those around us. We say, "I can forgive, but I cannot forget."
Oh, forget it! Drop it all. Purify your life and go on south all
sweet again. We forget what we ought to remember and remember what
we ought to forget. We need schools of memory, but we need schools
of forgettery, even more.
As you go on south and bless your valley, do you notice the valley
does not bless you very much? Have you sadly noted that the people
you help the most often are the least grateful in return?
Don't wait to be thanked. Hurry on to avoid the kick! Do good to
others because that is the way to be happy, but do not wait for a
receipt for your goodness; you will need a poultice every time you
wait. I know, for I have waited!
We get so discouraged. We say, "I have gone far enough south."
There is nobody who does not have that to meet. The preacher, the
teacher, the editor, the man in office, the business man, the
father and mother--every one who tries to carry on the work of the
church, the school, the lyceum and chautauqua, the work that makes
for a better community, gets discouraged at times.
We fail to see what we are doing or why we are doing it. Sometimes
we sit down completely discouraged and say, "I'm done. I'm going to
quit. I have done my share. Nobody appreciates what I do. Let
somebody else do it awhile."
Stop! You are not saying that. The evil one is whispering that into
your heart. His business is to stop you from going south. His most
successful tool is discouragement, which is a wedge, and if he can
get the sharp edge started into your thought, he is going to drive
You do not go south and overcome your obstacles and bless the
valley for praise or blame, for appreciation or lack of it. You do
it to live. You do it to remain a living river and not a stagnant,
unhappy pond or swamp.
YOU ARE SAVING YOURSELF BY SAVING OTHERS. GO ON SOUTH!
Almost everybody is deceived. We work from mixed motives. We fool
ourselves that we are working to do good, when as we do the good,
if we are not praised or thanked for it, if people do not present
us a medal or resolutions, we want to quit. That is why there are
so many disappointed and disgruntled people in the world. They worked
for outside thanks instead of inside thanks. They were trying to
be personal saviours. They say this is an ungrateful world.
O, how easy it is to say these things, and how hard it is to do them!
Reaching the Gulf
But because the Mississippi does these things, one day the train I
was riding stopped in Louisiana. We had come to a river so great
science has not yet been able to put a bridge across it.
I watched them pile the steel train upon a ferry-boat. I watched
the boat crossing a river more than a mile wide. Standing upon the
ferry-boat, I could look down into the lordly river and then far
north perhaps fifteen hundred miles to the little struggling
streamlet starting southward thru the forests of Minnesota, there
writing the first chapter of this wonderful book in the running brook.
I thank God that I had gone a little farther southward in my own
life. Father of Waters, you have fought a good fight. You are
conquering gloriously. You bear upon your bosom the commerce of
many nations. I know why. I saw you born, saw your struggles, saw
you get in the right channel, saw you learn the lessons of your
knocks, and saw that you never stopped going southward.
And may we read it into our own lives. May we get the vision of
which way to go, and then keep on going south--on and on, overcoming,
getting the lessons of the bumps, the strength from the struggle
and thus making it a part of ourselves, and thus growing greater.
Go on South Forever!
Where shall we stop going south? At the Gulf of Mexico?
The Mississippi knows nothing about the gulf. He goes on south
until he reaches the gulf. Then he pushes right on into the gulf as
tho nothing had happened. So he pushes his physical banks on south
many miles right out into the gulf.
And when he comes to the end of his physical banks, he pushes on
south into the gulf, and goes on south round and round the globe.
When you and I come to our Gulf of Mexico, we must push right on
south. So we push our physical banks years farther into the gulf.
And when physical banks fail, we go on south beyond this mere husk,
into the great Gulf of the Beyond, to go on south unfolding thru eternity.
WE NEVER STOP GOING SOUTH.
Going Up Life's Mountain
The Defeats that are Victories
HOW often we say, "I wish I had a million!" Perhaps it is a
blessing that we have not the million. Perhaps it would make us
lazy, selfish and unhappy. Perhaps we would go around giving it to
other people to make them lazy, selfish and unhappy.
O, the problem is not how to get money, but how to get rid of
money with the least injury to the race!
Perhaps getting the million would completely spoil us. Look at the
wild cat and then look at the tabby cat. The wild cat supports
itself and the tabby cat has its million. So the tabby cat has to
be doctored by specialists.
If the burden were lifted from most of us we would go to wreck.
Necessity is the ballast in our life voyage.
When you hear the orator speak and you note the ease and power of
his work, do you think of the years of struggle he spent in
preparing? Do you ever think of the times that orator tried to
speak when he failed and went back to his room in disgrace,
mortified and broken-hearted? Thru it all there came the
discipline, experience and grim resolve that made him succeed.
When you hear the musician and note the ease and grace of the
performance, do you think of the years of struggle and overcoming
necessary to produce that finish and grace? That is the story of
the actor, the author and every other one of attainment.
Do you note that the tropics, the countries with the balmiest
climates, produce the weakest peoples? Do you note that the
conquering races are those that struggle with both heat and cold?
The tropics are the geographical Gussielands.
Do you note that people grow more in lean years than in fat years?
Crop failures and business stringencies are not calamities, but
blessings in disguise. People go to the devil with full pockets;
they turn to God when hunger hits them. "Is not this Babylon that
I have builded?" says the Belshazzar of material prosperity as he
drinks to his gods. Then must come the Needful and Needless Knocks
handwriting upon the wall to save him.
You have to shoot many men's eyes out before they can see. You have
to crack their heads before they can think, knock them down before
they can stand, break their hearts before they can sing, and
bankrupt them before they can be rich.
Do you remember that they had to lock John Bunyan in Bedford jail
before he would write his immortal "Pilgrim's Progress"? It may be
that some of us will have to go to jail to do our best work.
Do you remember that one musician became deaf before he wrote music
the world will always hear? Do you remember that one author became
blind before writing "Paradise Lost" the world will always read?
Do you remember that Saul of Tarsus would have never been
remembered had he lived the life of luxury planned for him? He had
to be blinded before he could see the way to real success. He had
to be scourged and fettered to become the Apostle to the Gentiles.
He, too, had to be sent to prison to write his immortal messages to
humanity. What throne-rooms are some prisons! And what prisons are
Do you not see all around you that success is ever the phoenix
rising from the ashes of defeat?
Then, children, when you stand in the row of graduates on
commencement day with your diplomas in your hands, and when your
relatives and friends say, "Success to you!" I shall take your hand
and say, "Defeat to you! And struggles to you! And bumps to you!"
For that is the only way to say, "Success to you!"
Go Up the Mountain
O UNIVERSITY OF HARD KNOCKS, we learn to love you more with each
passing year. We learn that you are cruel only to be kind. We learn
that you are saving us from ourselves. But O, how most of us must
be bumped to see this!
I know no better way to close this lecture than to tell you of a
great bump that struck me one morning in Los Angeles. It seemed as
tho twelve years of my life had dropped out of it, and had been
Were you ever bumped so hard you were numb? I was numb. I wondered
why I was living. I thought I had nothing more to live for. When a
dog is wounded he crawls away alone to lick his wounds. I felt like
the wounded dog. I wanted to crawl away to lick my wounds.
That is why I climbed Mount Lowe that day. I wanted to get alone.
It is a wonderful experience to climb Mount Lowe. The tourists go
up half a mile into Rubio Canyon, to the engineering miracle, the
triangular car that hoists them out of the hungry chasm thirty-five
hundred feet up the side of a granite cliff, to the top of Echo Mountain.
Here they find that Echo Mountain is but a shelf on the side of
Mount Lowe. Here they take an electric car that winds five miles on
towards the sky. There is hardly a straight rail in the track.
Every minute a new thrill, and no two thrills alike. Five miles of
winding and squirming, twisting and ducking, dodging and summersaulting.
There are places where the tourist wants to grasp his seat and
lift. There is a wooden shelf nailed to the side of the perpendicular
rockwall where his life depends upon the honesty of the man who drove
the nails. He may wonder if the man was working by the day or by the job!
He looks over the edge of the shelf downward, and then turns to the other
side to look at the face of the cliff they are hugging, and discovers
there is no place to resign!
The car is five thousand feet high where it stops on that last shelf,
Alpine Tavern. One cannot ride farther upward. This is not the summit,
but just where science surrenders. There is a little trail that winds
upward from Alpine Tavern to the summit. It is three miles long
and rises eleven hundred feet.
To go up that last eleven hundred feet and stand upon the flat rock
at the summit of Mount Lowe is to get a picture so wonderful it
cannot be described with this poor human vocabulary. It must be
lived. On a pure, clear day one looks down this sixty-one hundred
feet, more than a mile, into the orange belt of Southern California.
It spreads out below in one great mosaic of turquoise and amber
and emerald, where the miles seem like inches, and where his
field-glass sweeps one panoramic picture of a hundred miles or more.
Just below is Pasadena and Los Angeles. To the westward perhaps
forty miles is the blue stretch of the Pacific Ocean, on westward
the faint outlines of Catalina Islands. The ocean seems so close
one could throw a pebble over into it. How a mountain does reduce
distances. You throw the pebble and it falls upon your toes!
And Mount Lowe is but a shelf on the side of the higher Sierras.
The granite mountains rise higher to the northward, and to the east
rises "Old Baldy," twelve thousand feet high and snow eternally
on his head.
This is one of the workshops of the infinite!
All alone I scrambled up that three-mile trail to the summit. All
alone I stood upon the flat rock at the summit and looked down into
the swimming distances. I did not know why I had struggled up into
that mountain sanctuary, for I was not searching for sublimity. I
was searching for relief. I was heartsick.
I saw clouds down in the valley below me. I had never before looked
down upon clouds. I thought of the cloud that had covered me in the
valley below, and dully watched the clouds spread wider and blacker.
Afterwhile the valley was all hidden by the clouds. I knew rain
must be falling down there. The people must be saying, "The sun
doesn't shine. The sky is all gone." But I saw the truth--the sun
was shining. The sky was in place. A cloud had covered down over
that first mile. The sun was shining upon me, the sky was all blue
over me, and there were millions of miles of sunshine above me. I
could see all this because I had gone above the valley. I could see
above the clouds.
A great light seemed to break over my stormswept soul. I am under
the clouds of trouble today, BUT THE SUN IS SHINING!
I must go on up the mountain to see it.
The years have been passing, the stormclouds have many times hidden
my sun. But I have always found the sun shining above them. No
matter how black and sunless today, when I have struggled on up the
mountain path, I have gotten above the clouds and found the sun
forever shining and God forever in His heavens.
Each day as I go up the mountain I get a larger vision. The miles
that seem so great down in the valley, seem so small as I look down
upon them from higher up. Each day as I look back I see more
clearly the plan of a human life. The rocks, the curves and the
struggles fit into a divine engineering plan to soften the
steepness of the ascent. The bumps are lifts. The things that seem
so important down in the smudgy, stormswept valley, seem so
unimportant as we go higher up the mountain to more important
Today I look back to the bump that sent me up Mount Lowe. I did not
see how I could live past that bump. The years have passed and I now
know it was one of the greatest blessings of my life. It closed one
gate, but it opened another gate to a better pathway up the mountain.
Late that day I was clambering down the side of Mount Lowe. Down in
the valley below me I saw shadows. Then I looked over into the
southwest and I could see the sun going down. I could see him sink
lower and lower until his red lips kissed the cheek of the Pacific.
The glory of the sunset filled sea and sky with flames of gold and
fountains of rainbows. Such a sunset from the mountain-side is a
promise of heaven.
The shadows of sunset widened over the valley. Presently all the
valley was black with the shadow. It was night down there. The
people were saying, "The sun doesn't shine." But it was not night
where I stood. I was farther up the mountain. I turned and looked
up to the summit. The beams of the setting sun were yet gilding
Mount Lowe's summit. It was night down in the valley, but it was
day on the mountain top!
Go on south!
That means, go on up!
Child of humanity, are you in the storm? Go on upward. Are you in
the night? Go on upward.
For the peace and the light are always above the storm and the
night, and always in our reach.
I am going on upward. Take my hand and let us go together. Mount Lowe
showed the way that dark day. There I heard the "sermons in stones."
Some day my night will come. It will spread over all this valley of
material things where the storms have raged.
But I shall be on the mountain top. I shall look down upon the
night, as I am learning to climb and look down upon the storms. I
shall be in the new day of the mountain-top, forever above the night.
I shall find this mountain-top just another shelf on the side of
the Mountain of Infinite Unfolding. I shall have risen perhaps only
the first mile. I shall have millions of miles yet to rise.
This will be another Commencement Day and Master's Degree. Infinite
the number on up. "Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have
entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared
for them that love Him."
We are not growing old. We are going up to Eternal Life.
Rejoice and Go Upward!
The Big Business of Life
Turning work Into Play
By Ralph Parlette
This book proves that the real big business is that of getting our
happiness now in our work, and not tomorrow for our work.
Judge Ben B. Lindsey, the kids' Judge, says:
"It is a great big boost for everybody who will read it. People
ought to buy them by the gross and send them to their friends."
Dr. J. G. Crabbe, President of the State Teachers College,
Greeley, Colo., says:
"The Big Business of Life is a real joy to read. It is big and
ought to be read today and tomorrow and forevermore every
where. It is truly `A Book of Rejoicing'."
The Augsberg Teacher, a Magazine for Teachers, says:
"In The Big Business of Life we have the practical philosophy
that it is everyone's business to abolish work and turn this
world into a playground. Who will not confess that many
mortals take their work too seriously, and that to them it is a
joyless, cheerless thing? To be able to find happiness, and to
find it when we are bending to our duties is to possess the
secret of living to the full. And happiness is to be sought
within, and not among the things that lie at our feet. The
book before us is wholesome and vivacious. It provokes many
a smile, and beneath each one is a bit of wisdom it would do us
a world of good to learn. It recalls the saying of the wise man
`A merry heart doeth good like a medicine'."
Many who have read The Big Business of Life
write us that they think it is even better than "The
University of Hard Knocks," which, they add, is
mighty hard to beat.
It's Up To You!
Are You Shaking Up or Rattling Down?
Go On South!
The Best is Yet to Come
The Salvation of a Sucker
You Can't Get Something for Nothing
These booklets by Ralph Parlette are short stories adapted from
chapters in "The University of Hard Knocks."
John C. Carroll, President of the Hyde Park State Bank of Chicago,
bought 1000 copies of the booklet "It's Up to You!" and of it he
says. "Parlette's Beans and Nuts is just as good as the Message to
Garcia and will be handed around just us much. I have handed the book
to business men, to young fellows, bond salesmen and such, to our
own vice president, and they all want another copy to send to some
friend. I would rather be author of it than president of the bank."
Employers in every line of business are buying quantities of "It's
Up to You!" for their workers.
William Jennings Bryan says of the booklet "Go On South": "It is
one of the great stories of the day."
Charles Grilk of Davenport, says: "My two children and I read the
Mississippi River story together and we were thoroly delighted."
Instruct us to send one of these booklets to your friends. It will
delight them more than any small present you can make.
End of Project Gutenberg etext of "The University of Hard Knocks"